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Dealing with a High Conflict Personality? Three goals for survivalÖ

Do you have a partner, a colleague, a friend, a loved one where everything is a challenge and every conversation becomes a competition; where if they donít get their way, there is hell to pay; where they are relentless in their pursuit; where somehow or other they are always right; where if they lose, someone else is always to blame? Then that person may have a High Conflict Personality (HCP). They may be a High Conflict Person (HCP)

Coined by Bill Eddy in 2003, Bill is an American with degrees in law and social work. Bill realized that the standard personality diagnosis available in the Diagnostic and Statisticís Manual didnít convey some common features of this personality disposition. Although not an actually recognized diagnosis as per the manual on psychiatric disorders, the High Conflict Personality resonates loud and clear for those working in the field of human relationships, be those relationships be between intimate couples, separated couples, employees or employees and employers or managers.

Bill Eddy identifies the main features of the HCP as including;

  1. All or none thinking;
  2. Unmanaged emotions;
  3. Extreme behaviors;
  4. Blaming others.

All or none thinking is also referred to as dichotomous thinking, where the persons sees things as either night or day, good or bad. Everything is divided very simply in two, with one part seen as favorable and the other part seen as unfavorable. There is no gray area in this personís thinking. You are either for me and my way of doing things or wanting what I want orÖ not. There is no real room for compromise, middle or creative solutions where both sides may come away satisfied. And whoa-be-tied if this person isnít satisfied because then you will see unmanaged emotions.

Those unmanaged emotions typically come across as hostility, anger, bitterness and resentment. They are expressed clearly and often loudly. You will always know when an HCP is unsatisfied with an outcome and so will everyone around the person.

As for extreme behaviors, these are not just persons who vent their discontent, they seek to discharge their discontent overtly. These are the persons who will try to ďoutĒ you as somehow inferior, wrong or bad; let others know their view of you; try to influence others to their side and their projection of you as a terrible person. These are the people who will file complaints and if unsatisfied with the outcome of the complaint, may escalate the matter further by then complaining about the complaint process and those involved. They may suggest conspiracy theories and continue to seek to bring others to their way of thinking and seeing themselves as the victim.

The HCP lacks insight and cannot reflect upon themselves and their own behavior to appreciate their contribution to distress As a result, they externalize their upset by projecting blame on others. In Bill Eddy terms, they seek a target of blame.

Like a laser guided missile or a junk yard dog on a bone, they will zero in and not let go. They seek to not just hold their target of blame somehow accountable for misfortune originating with themselves, but to annihilate the person who they see as thwarting their objective. This is consistent with their all or none thinking. There can be no good in the person they are seeking to annihilate. Their target of blame is all bad and nothing that person has ever done could be good. Their solutions require their target of blame to not only lose with regard to the matter of dispute, but to lose everything either personally or professionally.

There are different degrees of HCP, but the underlying features remain. To add, each HCP will possess a different level of sophistication. As such, some people with HCP will be easily seen as the source of the problem, despite their complaints and projections. These are the persons whose behavior may be so extreme as to create trouble with the law or whose lies are so self-evident that other people can quickly see through them, or whose claims are so outrageous so as not to make sense on face value.

Then there are the ones who are more sophisticated, who are able to keep their behavior on the lawful side of the line, who may use more institutional structures to act out their discontent. These are the persons who will take to the Internet to post anonymous complaints and diatribes; who will make countless complaints to review boards; who will seek to undermine ones position or profession; who will continually seek to take things to courts at any level. These people can distort the truth and make their false claims appear plausible. These are the persons who are adept at lawful harassment and indeed may be more dangerous as a result.

Bill Eddy advises of a number of approaches to working with people High Conflict Personalities. One approach regards how to reply or respond to the diatribes and lengthy emails, texts and voice messages often associated with these persons. Bill speaks of BIFF Ė Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm. The challenge is to not be inducted or defensive with regard to every point and issue raised by this person, but to stay true to the kernel of the issue at hand and only address that issue and to do so reasonably, clearly and with a friendly tone.

The other strategy Bill suggests, he refers to as EAR Ė Empathy, Attention, Respect. Bill suggests that any persons who he would identify as having an HCP may also have an underlying Narcissistic Personality Disorder. So while many HCPs may have a Narcissistic Personality Disorder, not all Narcissistic Personality Disorders are HCPs. Assuming an underlying Narcasistic personality Disorder, the EAR approach address the personís need to be seen as extra special, unique and deserving of respect and attention, regardless of how you may truly feel about the person and regardless of that personís actual behavior.

BIFF and EAR are all about management strategies to cope, get along with, negotiate with, etc. These strategies are not about changing the person identified as having a HCP, but only to co-exist, manage or survive.

Do BIFF and EAR always work? Absolutely not. Sometimes regardless of approach, the person with the HCP will just not like the outcome regardless of approach and will continue to rail upon their target of blame continuing to seek their desired outcome.

Therapy for the person identified as HCP tends to be of little to no value. Given a lack of insight, their inability to reflect upon themselves precludes traditional therapy.

If you are in a relationship with such a person, or working with such a person or exiting a relationship with such a person, get help and support for yourself. You can learn better coping and management strategies. This wonít necessarily make the associated issues go away, but it may at least provide some degree of relief.

As much as you may want to set the record straight, donít bother. These persons will outshout you and your defense only creates the conditions for them to continue. The real goals are

  1. To be at peace with yourself;
  2. Seek outcomes that while not perfect, are bearable;
  3. And get on with your own life.

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Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
(905) 628-4847  

gary@yoursocialworker.com

www.yoursocialworker.com 
 
Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

 

Call Gary for your next conference and for expert opinion on family matters. Services include counselling, mediation, assessment, assessment critiques and workshops.

 

 

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20 Suter Crescent, Dundas, ON, Canada L9H 6R5 Tel: (905) 628-4847 Email: gary@yoursocialworker.com