Potential Psychology and Emotional Challenges in HNW and UHNW DivorceDate: 19/02/2020 Type: Articles Topic: Client Perspective | Modern Family | Author: Ahi Wheeler - Harley Street Therapy
While we are all aware of the highly complex legal, financial, commercial and international issues raised by HNW divorces, how much do we know about the personalities that have evolved within this section of society? What might we encounter of the psychology and emotional aspects of the parties involved?
HNW and UHNW individuals face and develop a set of challenges within life that might be unfamiliar to those who do not inhabit that world of affluence. The very nature of their circumstances allows them to distance and detach themselves from the everyday concerns that occupy most of the planet, the need to survive financial demands on daily basis, to make ends meet. Consequently there is often little awareness, sympathy or empathy for the human and existential struggles that they, like every other human on the planet, have to face.
HNW and UHNW individuals are more than three times as likely to suffer from addiction or mental health issues than the general population, but seek help less often, for fear of being shamed, losing important roles, office or jobs, and also for lack of knowing who to turn to and whom to trust in such a delicate situation. Early experiences with wealth would have cautioned them to the envy or jealousy of others, as well as to the risk that they will be exploited, or that others will try and take advantage of them for money, goods or status/access. Trust becomes a major issue, and suspicion arises as a result.
Next generation inheritors are also at very high risk on average to succumb to substance abuse, depression and other issues. The reasons for this are manifold, from affluent neglect, to 'affluenza', growing up with limited freedom of choice regarding career path and partner choice, high expectations from family or public, crippling lack of meaning, direction or purpose.
Just like all other humans, they are not exempt from feelings of depression, anxiety, low self-worth, poor self-confidence, feeling like a fraud etc. In fact these issues are often exaggerated as a consequence of thinking that others like them for what they have rather than for who they are. With inherited wealth issues such as not living up to the parents success can often result in the children struggling to find a meaningful space or contribution in the world. As for the ‘self-made’ individual, external wealth is not a protection against internal poverty, the need to keep driving oneself forward, proving one’s worth. Access to wealth also means more opportunities for immersing oneself in any addiction of choice. Capitalism means precisely that there are plenty of opportunities waiting to divest individuals of their wealth. Someone else would like to get rich at your expense.
In divorce then, we can expect to see some manner of all these psychological and emotional issues playing themselves out. To name a few: paranoia and suspicion; entitlement; grandiosity; rigidity; abandonment; controlling behaviour; deviousness aimed at protecting and keeping everything one has; despair; addictions (drugs, alcohol, gambling, food, sex); destructiveness; lack of meaning/purpose and motivation; money worries (preserving and protecting what you have, the more you have, the more you have to lose, and the more you worry) etc. In addition to the desire to control assets, comes the desire to control or punish the other party by weaponising children. International lifestyles predictably makes all this infinitely more complex. The heart of the problem is already a difficulty in forming personal relationships, due in part to lack of shared experience with others (when only 1% of the population are doing what you do), and the hidden agendas of others based on what you have. When the primary relationship is breaking down all these doubts and fears arise with renewed vigour.
What then do professionals working with these individuals need to bear in mind? Firstly that you are dealing with a human who is hurting. For all the show of wealth and power, this does not protect us against feelings of loss, betrayal, heartbreak, abandonment, neglect, and consequently anger, hatred, the desire for revenge. So can we try and connect to and engage with that hurt on human level? Can we be aware of our own feelings of judgement or envy/jealousy and actively compensate for that internally? Can we see past the mask that the wealth affords to the individual, often vulnerable in some way, lurking beneath? Can we put aside any feelings of fear or awe that we might have? Can we learn to become aware of our fear of the threats or intimidation that might come if we fail to please, so we can act in a way that does not play this out?
We must also be aware that anyone who has made their own wealth will have faced conflict and opposition throughout their journey. They will therefore not be conflict-averse, and precisely when they are hurting are more likely to wish to pursue conflict-laden and aggressive overtures to destroy the person they believe is trying to hurt them. Imagine the opportunities for playing this out in a divorce! Aside from the legal aspects of what you need to know and do, you also need to maintain awareness that you have knowledge, experience and skill. That is why they came to you.Remember to trust that when clients are demanding or deskilling. Maintain excellent boundaries, especially with individuals who are used to buying what they want/need, to being demanding, or using wealth in order to get their way, or to circumvent boundaries that you might otherwise apply. Be clear on this with yourself. You have a commitment to do everything you can to the best of your ability, a commitment both to yourselves and your clients. But there are end-points to this, both during and after your work-day. You are also a human who needs space and time to reconnect with yourself, without which you will find it hard to connect to what is happening under the surface with your client, and consequently to maintain and trust your perspective of their situation.