Saturday, 27 December 2014

The Narcissist Cries Wolf

In The Windmills of Your Mind I spoke of:
  • Providing assistance or support for someone in need involves doing what needs to be done from the point of view of the patient or client
  • Services that are not available when needed can have devastating, perhaps even catastrophic consequences for the person seeking assistance
  • Recommending that a client or a patient seek assistance or treatment from someone who in the end renders no productive assistance can be deflating and at times even destructive
  • All parties must relevantly and appropriately invest in the relationship of trust
  • If no productive advice or assistance is forthcoming, the patient or client can be discouraged from being so forthcoming in the future. That can have a detrimental effect on their motivation to seek advice or assistance in the future.

False Claims of Suicidal Ideation
Helpers are discouraged from rendering assistance where there are false claims of suicidal ideation.

In the case to which I will refer in this post, I had significant doubts as to the credibility of the narcissistic person in question (“the Narcissist”) on some matters I considered relevant to their circumstances. In my view, full disclosure was not one of their strengths.

The Narcissist had formed a view about something. I did not share their view.

On the day in question I received several text messages from the Narcissist using their work mobile telephone. The last message was the one which concerned me the most. I did not reply to it and I have had no further contact with the Narcissist since receiving that message.

The subject message contained suicidal ideation. Relevantly it read: "I feel like killing myself today."

Later that day the Narcissist was visible elsewhere and was seemingly in good spirits. In subsequent appearances the Narcissist continued to seem in good spirits, in fact they seemed to be revelling in the new circumstances they had created for themself.

The reference in the subject text message to suicidal ideation was something that concerned and upset me.  It was not the first time the Narcissist had raised suicidal ideation as a topic. It had been raised on at least one (1) prior occasion by them and there were at least two (2) hysterical telephone calls, which were a complete overreaction to the situation which presented itself at the relevant times. I was aware that there were significant developments in the life of the Narcissist at the time which placed them under much more pressure than would ordinarily be the case.

I was in the company of another adult when I received the message and we had a discussion about it shortly afterwards. I did not consider that the Narcissist was doing anything more than trying to manipulate me, bully me and guilt me into behaving in a way consistent with their wishes.

I found it disturbing that the Narcissist had easy access to many qualified medical practitioners, including psychiatrists, psychologists and general practitioners, yet chose to communicate their difficulties in the way they did. Eight (8) months earlier the Narcissist was able to access a psychiatrist from their work to engage in a public activity with them for a purpose which suited their agenda. Apparently the Narcissist did not consult any of their work colleagues, nor did they consult any of their friends or family about their situation on the day they sent the manipulative, false suicidal ideation claim message to me. In respect of that message, the Narcissist knew or would be expected to know:

  • The policy of their employer about suicide threat risk; and
  • The consequences of an expression of suicidal ideation.

The Narcissist communicated the message to me on their work mobile telephone, in my view thereby compromising not only themself, but also their employer.

Once the message was received by me it enlivened several issues:
  • The mental stability of the Narcissist
  • What impact did the new circumstances in which the Narcissist found themself have upon them?
  • I had noticed a marked change in the behaviour of the Narcissist in relatively recent times
  • The level of dishonesty of the Narcissist had increased measurably
  • The extent, if any, that the message I received might be indicative of the Narcissist experiencing genuine mental health issues
  • There is a theory that someone who makes manipulative suicide threats is someone who needs immediate professional attention
  • To what extent am I obliged to raise my concerns with the Narcissist?

I was also annoyed that the Narcissist would resort to sending me a text message indicating suicidal ideation on their part in their campaign to manipulate and control what I say and do in relation to them. The selfish attention-seeking of the Narcissist is bereft of integrity.

In their article “Suicide Risk Assessment: Where Are We Now? - A definitive way to identify patients who will suicide remains elusive”, Christopher J Ryan 1 2 and Matthew M Large 3 4 said the following:
  • "Suicidal ideation, for example, is not useful as an indicator of the likelihood of future suicide, but it is an invaluable sign of a person’s inner despair."
  • “We cannot prevent tragedy by trying to identify those few souls who will be consumed by it. We must instead gather a comprehensive picture of each individual patient, and use this to tailor optimal management for the patients and families needing our care.”

Some observations from a friend about making a false claim of suicidal ideation are instructive:
  • It is manipulation at it's worst.
  • Anyone who has ever been touched by suicide would be mortified that someone would use those words to make another person feel bad.
  • Someone making such a false statement has no respect for people that are truly suffering.

Making a false claim of suicidal ideation is a far from ideal way to communicate one’s inner despair. Using it as a manipulation tool to achieve an ulterior purpose is appalling behaviour and a form of emotional blackmail and emotional abuse. It detracts from and devalues people who make a genuine cry for help. Further it can discourage people from responding and rendering assistance to those who really are suicidal.

Nothing positive is achieved by making a false claim of suicidal ideation.

1 (MB BS, MHL, FRANZCP, Senior Clinical Lecturer)
2 Discipline of Psychiatry and the Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW.
3 (BSc(Med), MB BS, FRANZCP, Senior Clinical Lecturer)
4 School of Psychiatry, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Blinded By The Light

Might Get Fooled Again
As I reflected upon my To Thine Own Self Be True piece I recalled a female client, who had separated from the father of their child and formed a romantic relationship with a new man. She saw fit to relocate from the father of the child and do so in circumstances that incurred the wrath of the Federal Magistrate hearing the trial. It was not surprising to hear the mother list a number of complaints of the personality and make up of the father. That is often standard fare in these matters.

What was of more interest to me was that the new man in her life was essentially a carbon copy of the man he replaced, with the exception that he appeared to be a nicer, more considerate version. However the writing was on the wall that the mother was in for a similar future with the new man to that she had with the former partner, if the new man did not maintain his considerate disposition. He was a man without any legal training whatsoever, but that did not stop him from informing my solicitor and I that he could give crucial evidence at the trial and it was evidence that would definitely support the case of the mother.

He was utterly wrong in that assessment, but that was not something which occurred to him. I politely told him the case did not need the benefit of his evidence and insofar as the case is concerned, that is where the matter ended. However as to my overall view of the case, his controlling and overbearing personality was of some concern to me. The mother may very well have been making the same mistake the second time as she made the first time and that may not be a good outcome for the children of the relationships.

Rarely are litigants attuned to the nuances of cross-examination. They often need to learn that the answers they give to questions posed to them can reveal aspects of them and their lives that they would rather not reveal. The answers given and the revelations made in relation to one line of enquiry can end up supporting another, seemingly unrelated, line of enquiry.

More recently a mother consulted me for advice. There was clearly a new man in her life, although she refused to characterise him as her lover. She certainly refused to make a public declaration that she and the new man were in a romantic relationship. Nevertheless her answers and behaviour revealed the strong influence on her life that this new man was achieving. From the information the mother provided it could be clearly seen that the new man was a vain, self-promoter, who was primarily interested in his own advancement in life. Others were merely an adjunct to it and to him. He had plenty of opinions and he was keen to share them. In so doing the ultimate cause he promoted was to make himself the centre of attention.

In conversation with the mother I often heard her reveal details of her interaction with the new man. The impact he had had upon her life was significant, perhaps even profound. Although it is difficult to say that such impact was ultimately positive. The effect of that impact was something she appeared to have significantly undervalued as a relevant issue.

Whilst possessed of many opinions and not being shy about sharing them, his knowledge was deficient in terms of preparing and presenting family law litigation successfully to courts.  It was not surprising to hear the mother reveal that in conversation with the new man, he was highly critical of me and the advice I had provided her. It was sad to see the extent to which she was starstruck by him. Taking his advice over mine was not going to enhance her litigation position. In fact, it was going to harm it. Ultimately, all he cared about was himself.

What was missing from their interaction was a dispassionate view of their relationship and its impact. The new man lacked the legal knowledge, skills and acumen required to enable the mother to properly advance her litigation and make fully informed decisions in respect of it. That obvious deficiency on his part was manifested acutely when the mother continued to consult me for legal advice. Legal advice the mother could not obtain anywhere else, due to the unique knowledge and skill she acknowledged that I possessed.

His actions highlighted his insecurity and brittle self-confidence. Objectively assessing the actions of the mother, she had replaced one poor choice for a partner with another. Using history as a guide, the future of the new relationship is in real danger of traversing the same path as the old relationship. That is hardly likely to be comforting for the children of her relationships.

The Impact of The Seduction
Those men do not act in the best interests of the children or anyone else, they act in their own best interests. Their charm offensive is invariably destructive for the women and often also for the children. That involvement with those men may lead to destructive or self-destructive behaviour on the part of the women is of little concern to them. It is their own power they wish to maintain. Their seduction of the women is based on maintaining their power.

As lawyers, we can advise these women, however they become very skilled at hearing only what they wish to hear and criticism of these men often falls on deaf ears. A different outcome might occur, if the criticism is able to be agitated within the litigation. However those men try to keep their bad qualities out of any relevant litigation, so that they are not the subject of any scrutiny. That includes manipulation of the relevant women to preclude any adverse comment about them.

Ultimately, as I said in naming my short stories blog, you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink.

Monday, 3 November 2014

To Thine Own Self Be True

Early in my legal career, perhaps even before it started, I remember a scene of movie from the United States of America starring a man in his 40s. He played a lawyer and he had become completely disenchanted with the legal profession, as a result of all the injustices he had seen. At the time I wondered how that decline or deterioration could occur. How could he lose faith so completely in the law?

In recent times I found myself being able to empathise with that character. Constant exposure to injustices, some of them profound, can certainly be energy sapping; ultimately it can be soul destroying.  One of the hardest things to deal with is the seemingly unrelenting dishonesty.

A Twitter Exchange
A Twitter exchange about my Reflection Informs Perspective article lead to a discussion about the ethical and professional challenges that can be presented by practising in Family Law. It arose as I was making notes upon which to base my cross-examination article. The latter two (2) being inspired by a case with a complex matrix of facts, including:

  • Whether the parties had disclosed all relevant material;
  • Whether the lawyers retained had made proper prudent enquiries to be fully informed about the case;
  • Whether the lawyers had advised the litigants what result a Court might reach, if it had to decide the matter;
  • What personal and financial tolls might be involved with the various options available for the case.

The case was even more complex because it also involved the children of the litigants and there was an overriding requirement that any decision made in respect of them would be in their best interests.

My colleague posed the question, whether in a civil action one should ally oneself to a cause one considered unjust?

I replied, “That one's personal views and professional obligations may conflict is an ever-present challenge”.

He agreed and added, “may it ever be so lest our consciences atrophy from lack of exercise”.

That inspired me to reflect upon Family Law practice and how it can present even more complex challenges. The cases litigants want to run are not always in the best interests of the children concerned. As my colleague observed, that can be “a difficult road for the lawyer of conscience to tread”. He was interested how one deals with it.

I knew of a case that posed some very real ethical and professional challenges. How does one respond to those challenges? Understanding effective in-court advocacy informs good case preparation. One does not have to be adversarial to be successful.

My colleague further enquired:

  • Where does the ethics of care fit in?
  • How do you determine the client's best interests?

Confronting Reality
I have said previously once engaged I am obliged to do my job to the best of my ability.  In that regard I pursue the instructions of my client and relegate any personal views I have, with the exception that I must always honour my primary duty to the Court. The justice that can be achieved by a litigant is justice according to law.

As I said in my Cross-examination article, I knew facts about the subject case that the litigants seemed unwilling to agitate. My view was that those facts could have a significant impact on the outcome of the case, if the Court were minded to take a particular view of them. That was not the only view that was open on those facts.

The rigours of the court room experience are alien to most clients. Their narrative and attitude is informed by their education and experience. They tend to proffer an approach based on that education and experience. However that is not always the best way to achieve the outcome they say they wish to achieve or that may be in their best interests.

A good advocate will not only endeavour to learn how a Court may rule on a particular issue, but also how to persuade a Court to arrive at such a decision. Evidence and advocacy style are relevant considerations in that regard.

As the particular case develops the lawyer must ensure that they comply with all their professional obligations. New developments and information can require a review of the position one is obliged to take in respect of the case.

Experience in Court and in life can educate a lawyer as to what they feel may be in the best interests of the children. That view may conflict with the instructions of the client. The client may wish to prosecute a case that the lawyer feels is not in the best interests of the children.

It is difficult to arrive at an informed conclusion as to what may be in the best interests of the child unless and until all the relevant facts and circumstances of the case have been considered.

The attitude of the client can constrain the disclosure of information and material. The client may determine for their own purposes what they reveal in conference with their lawyers. That may be a poorly informed decision on their part, because it may preclude relevant information from becoming part of the litigation. Something the client considers bad may not necessarily turn out that way in the final analysis.

Managing Ideological Clashes
Difficulties can arise when the ideologies of the client and the lawyers clash. Managing those clashes is critical.

I knew the wife was a skilled manipulator, yet she denied such an allegation to me. During discussions involving the matter she inadvertently admitted to trying to manipulate the proceedings to prevent disclosure of something she considered awkward for her. That admission would support the allegation that she was a manipulator. There was good evidence to support the inference that she had other awkward evidence she was trying to hide. Apparently the husband was unaware of this awkward evidence.

As I dealt more with the wife, it occurred to me she was dishonest and her dishonesty had the potential to seriously impact the proceedings. I will not be party to misleading the Court. I make that very clear to anyone who wishes me to do so.

I once had a bankruptcy client for whom I could ultimately make no positive submissions. I made him aware of my position, but he wished to persist with his case. I told him I could no longer act for him. I made the same decision in a child protection case when the father was kind enough to threaten me with physical violence in front of a witness seemingly sympathetic to his case.

The manipulative, dishonest wife had not reached that stage, but there were warning signs that this could be a difficult situation. Some of her behaviour could be said to be damaging to her case and by persisting with it, she was doing herself no favours. Ultimately it was her decision not to heed advice. It could even be argued that the mother was manifesting self-destructive behaviour and that she would be a danger to the children, if it continued and escalated.

The possible self-destructive behaviour of the mother was an issue worth agitating before the Court. Was it in the best interests of the children to be placed primarily in the care of such a parent? It appeared that circumstances were conspiring to prevent the agitation of that issue.

The case posed another question for me: Did the duty to the Court in our adversarial system extend to requiring that material be placed before the Court to agitate that issue, so that it could be considered in determining what was in the best interests of the children? 1 2

Professionally I resolved the question conservatively and considered that my duty did not extend that far. Privately I may hold a different view. More generally that particular issue is a long way from resolved and is worthy of considerably more debate. However that was for another time.

A Court hearing in the matter will bring these issues closer to the surface. Until that happens, the parties have freedom to reach an agreement between themselves. That may also resolve some of the difficulties presenting themselves to me in the case.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Cross-Examination: Understanding and Constructing The Complexities of The Vibe

Cross-examination is a fascinating endeavour. No two people do it the same and executing it effectively invariably takes time and practice.  Refining the skill involves patience, insight and reflection. Understanding the subject material is crucial, as is appreciating the outcome sought to be achieved by the cross-examination.

Instructions of the client will form a general guide as to what approach ought be taken, but they are not the only consideration. Further enquiries and / or investigations may be required and information gained from those enquiries or investigations may suggest that a different approach to the one apparently proposed by the client is prudent.  That new information may also require further legal advice to be given and that can also change the approach the cross-examination ought take.

Sometimes when you are seemingly not thinking about a case, something about it appears in your thoughts and it causes you to revisit the case and your approach to it. A case had occupied my thoughts for some time. It involved a complex matrix of facts, including:
  • Whether the parties had disclosed all relevant material;
  • Whether the lawyers retained had made proper prudent enquiries to be fully informed about the case;
  • Whether the lawyers had advised the litigants what result a Court might reach, if it had to decide the matter; and
  • What personal and financial tolls might be involved with the various options available for the case.

This case was even more complex because it also involved the children of the litigants and there was an overriding requirement that any decision made in respect of the children would be in their best interests.

I knew facts about the case that the litigants seemed unwilling to agitate. My view was that those facts could have a significant impact on the outcome of the case, if the Court were minded to take a particular view of them. That was not the only view that was open on those facts.

I had had significant discussions with one of the litigants (L1 for the purposes of this article). L1 was keen to tell their narrative and not keen to be moved from it onto any other narrative. Conversation with L1 could at times be rather difficult.

My approach is to endeavour to understand the entire case and see what impression that case makes upon me. I also try to appreciate how the Judge might view the case. Litigants are not always keen to embrace such an expansive view of their situation. Often they feel that their narrative should be accepted without challenge. That is a shortsighted view and one unlikely to prepare a litigant for the rigours of the court room experience.

I was doing something completely unrelated to the case in question when I found my mind replaying a part of the narrative of L1. My impression was that the narrative sounded forced, that it was trying to convince me of a situation or a state of events, but it was not doing so in a compelling way. I realised that I had felt similarly in the past when that particular topic was discussed by L1. Credibility was a very real issue in the case and an alternative narrative could be told about L1 that would cast them in a very different light. The alternative narrative could have a significant impact on the result of the case.

L1 was not interested in the alternative narrative being discussed. They were also not particularly interested in understanding that the other litigant (L2 for the purposes of this article) could use inferences to support the alternate case and those inferences could be supported by successfully challenging the credibility of L1.

The nuance of the forced narrative resonated strongly with me. It suggested the author (L1) was not being truthful. I thought that would be the approach I would endeavour to take, if I were charged with the task of making the alternative narrative. A provable peripheral lie is a good friend when you are seeking to dismantle the credibility of a witness. If the witness is prepared to lie about something unimportant, then they are definitely prepared to lie about the crucial matters of the case, is how the argument goes. The forced narrative impressed me as being akin to a peripheral lie and it made me wonder what L1 was trying to hide.

In the abstract it also made me happy because I thought the forced narrative could be used to support the alternative narrative, which was based on a considerable number of inferences. The alternative narrative would commence with establishing a number of discrete facts, perhaps not immediately appearing as relevant to the overall outcome sought to be achieved. Having established the first set of facts, there was a second set of facts that needed to be established. Those facts were not always apparently directly connected to the first set of facts. With all those facts now established, some observations as to behaviour could be made. It was then possible to suggest that what may appear to be isolated and unrelated events, were in fact part of a rather more elaborate behaviour that was in stark contrast to the pleasant narrative L1 wanted to tell. The further one went through the inferences narrative proposed by L2, the stronger the inferences became that L1 was not necessarily possessed of good behaviour.

The significance of attacking the character or personal behaviour of L1 was to support the overall argument that their focus was not primarily on the children and parenting the children, but rather on the social life of L1. Accordingly L2 should have more time with children.

The overall argument having been understood, a process needed to be identified by which L2 could make their case, in circumstances where there were not necessarily facts obviously appearing to support them. The opportunity to pursue that narrative arose via the narrative of L1 and the fact that at a significant point it seemed to be forced, suggesting it was not true.

Effective cross-examination is a complex and multi-layered endeavour. It need not be clear to those watching cross-examination at any given time what the ultimate goal of the case may be, but working towards that ultimate goal is crucial. Similarly within the case something may arise that causes you to change your approach, if you are to retain hope in achieving your ultimate goal. There are also times when the reputation of a witness can be seriously challenged, but it need not necessarily be restored for your overall case to be successful.

As I said at the outset, no two people do cross-examination the same. A seemingly unrelated thought inspired reflection on the case and that provided a greater appreciation of the evidence. From that I could determine how cross-examination might be undertaken. Whether the Judge would ultimately be persuaded by my cross-examination and submissions is another matter, but I was confident I could mount a compelling argument and in doing so, I would enliven the chances of the client being successful.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Reflection Informs Perspective

There is often community discussion about the so-called criminal defence lawyers as to how we can defend people charged with certain criminal offences. That observation seems to be made against a background of the author making a pre-judgement as to the behaviour and the character of the accused. It ignores or undervalues the fundamental principles of the presumption of innocence and that everyone should be entitled to a fair trial and receive justice according to law. In my view those qualities are cornerstones of a just and humane society.

What receives considerably less public discussion is the aspect of protecting or pursuing the rights of people in other legal domains. There have been many times when I have assiduously used my legal talents to achieve the best outcome for my client in circumstances where others may not have been so successful. In that regard I pursue the instructions of my client and relegate any personal views I have, with the exception that I must always honour my primary duty to the Court.

When the dust has settled on some of those results and circumstances permit some reflection to occur, it can be the case that the outcome achieved is not one I would have personally preferred, were I afforded the luxury of administering justice to the case on my own terms. There are times when I may have preferred to assume a different role within the case and perhaps I could have achieved a different outcome for it.

Another contributing factor is the extent to which the client shows gratitude and appreciation for what has been done and what has been achieved. There are clients whose lack of gratitude can add to the discomfort felt when reflecting on the overall outcome. A variation on that theme is the client who accepts the outcome, but shows no real insight into what has been achieved for them and the benefit to their life as a result of what has been done for them. Particularly where it is clear that they would not have achieved such an outcome themselves or without that specific input.

The congregation of those reflections and observations often informs and shapes one’s attitude to the endeavour. The right to a fair trial and the entitlement for everyone to receive justice according to law should continue. However one’s appreciation of the justice of individual cases can vary as a result of those reflections and experiences.

Whilst I can be satisfied that I did my job to the best of my ability and that justice was achieved according to law, there are definitely times when my ultimate feeling is that the individual concerned did not really deserve the result my skills were able to deliver.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

The Windmills of Your Mind

Time and again when I see and hear the outpouring of sadness and grief in response to the demise of a celebrity or public figure I see and hear an acknowledgement of the importance of being supportive of people in need. Each time it also strikes me how many people fail to realise the importance of providing support to people in need every day or at least when it is needed.  The provision of support needs to be focused on the recipient, not the provider.

Very early in my career as a lawyer it occurred to me that if I was to be effective, my clients needed to feel they could be completely candid with me as to how they got themselves into the situation in which they found themselves.  A failure to provide that candour would seriously enliven the possibility that I could not only not provide appropriate legal advice, but also we would not be best placed to respond to whatever it was that ultimately confronted the client.

The same can be said for anyone providing medical care of any sort. The patient or client needs to be able to be completely candid with the person providing care for any treatment proposed to be of any utility.

What has struck me often in life is the number of people who contend they are providing assistance or support, yet their involvement seems to be based on their own convenience.  The provision of assistance or support involves doing what needs to be done from the point of view of the patient or client, not what is convenient or easiest for the provider.

Contending that a service is available for someone in need, yet when that person in need seeks to utilise the relevant service they discover it is not available can have devastating, perhaps even catastrophic consequences for the person seeking assistance.

Similarly deflating and at times even destructive is recommending that a client or a patient seek assistance or treatment from someone who in the end renders no productive assistance. A constituent part of the relationship between the client or patient and the person providing assistance is a relationship of trust.  When a client or a patient shares their history with a view to receiving advice or assistance, they invest in that relationship of trust. If no productive advice or assistance is forthcoming, the patient or client can be discouraged from being so forthcoming in the future. That can have a detrimental effect on their motivation to seek advice or assistance in the future.

Sending an R U OK? text message is not providing real assistance, nor is posting support to social media. Ring people in need, talk to them, spend time with them. Encourage them to feel wanted and worthy. The rewards of so doing are witnessing their positive response and the engagement or interaction in the process.

To paraphrase Albert Camus: Don't walk behind them; they may not lead. Don't walk in front of them; they may not follow. Just walk beside them and be their friend.