5 Types of People Who Can Ruin Your Life

5 Types of People Who Can Ruin Your Life


Identifying and Dealing with Narcissists, Sociopaths, and Other High-Conflict Personalities

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Identifying and Dealing with Narcissists, Sociopaths, and Other High-Conflict Personalities

By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.

Do you know someone whose moods swing wildly? Do they act unreasonably suspicious or antagonistic? Do they blame others for their own problems?

Some difficult people aren't just hard to deal with—they’re dangerous.

When a high-conflict person has one of five common personality disorders—borderline, narcissistic, paranoid, antisocial, or histrionic—they can lash out in risky extremes of emotion and aggression. And once an HCP decides to target you, they’re hard to shake.

But there are ways to protect yourself. Using empathy-driven conflict management techniques, Bill Eddy, a lawyer and therapist with extensive mediation experience, will teach you to:

  • Spot warning signs of the five high-conflict personalities in others and in yourself. 
  • Manage relationships with HCPs at work and in your private life. 
  • Safely avoid or end dangerous and stressful interactions with HCPs.

Filled with expert advice and real-life anecdotes, 5 Types of People Who Can Ruin Your Life is an essential guide to helping you escape negative relationships, build healthy connections, and safeguard your reputation and personal life in the process. And if you have a high-conflict personality, this book will help you help yourself.


Publication date: February 6, 2018
Pages: 208
Publisher:  TarcherPerigee
Binding: softcover
ISBN (print): 978-0143131366


BILL EDDY is the co-founder and president of the High Conflict Institute, a company devoted to helping individuals and organizations deal with high-conflict people. Eddy is a Certified Family Law Specialist and Senior Family Mediator at the National Conflict Resolution Center in San Diego. He is also a Licensed Clinical Social worker with twelve years' experience providing therapy to children, adults, couples and families in psychiatric hospitals and outpatient clinics. He has taught negotiation and mediation and currently serves on the faculty of the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at the Pepperdine University School of Law.


High conflict people are everywhere among us. Because we are often caught off guard by them, Bill Eddy, author of 5 Types of People Who Can Ruin Your Life says we are also often unprepared for how to deal with them.

“There are five types of people who can ruin your life. They can ruin your reputation, your self-esteem, or your career. They can destroy your finances, your physical health, or your sanity. Some of them will kill you, if you give them the opportunity,” writes Eddy.

Kara is one example. While she initially drew the attention of Tom with her unique ability to pull him out of his shell and capture the attention of everyone at social events, their passionate courtship and marriage ended quickly with a restraining order based on false allegations, and seven years of court battles over their daughter.

People like Kara are extreme versions of what Eddy calls high conflict personalities.

“Unlike most of us, who normally try to resolve or diffuse conflicts, people with high conflict personalities (HCPs) respond to conflicts by compulsively increasing them,” writes Eddy.

Through choosing their targets of blame – usually someone close such as a coworker, friend, relative, or an authority figure – HCPs systematically turn minor conflicts into merciless wars.

And while Eddy describes five types of HCPs, they all share the following set of traits: interpersonal dysfunction; lack of social awareness; and lack of change. However, it is when personality disorders overlap with target of blame that they become especially dangerous.

“If and when you do encounter someone who falls in that overlapping area, you need to be able to recognize them, avoid them, and if necessary, deal with them. If you do avoid or effectively deal with them, you will save yourself a huge amount of trouble and heartache. You may even save your reputation, your sanity, or your life,” writes Eddy.

The good news is that people with high conflict personalities are surprisingly predictable. Eddy describes four primary characteristics: lots of all-or-nothing thinking; intense or unmanaged emotions; extreme behavior or threats; and a preoccupation with blaming others.

HCPs, however, should not be directly confronted.

“Never tell someone they are a high-conflict person, or that they have a personality disorder, no matter how obvious this may seem. They will see this as a life-threatening attack – and a valid reason to make you their central target of blame, perhaps for years to come,” writes Eddy.

What we should do instead, Eddy suggests, is pay attention to our emotions and not discount the sudden impulse to run, or fight, or freeze in someone’s presence, especially when it doesn’t match our thoughts.

“Here’s a common experience with an HCP: You listen to someone tell you how awful someone (i.e., their target of blame) is and then you start to have similar negative feelings of your own toward their target of blame,” writes Eddy.

One way to spot an HCP quickly is to observe what Eddy calls the “90 percent rule”, which states that many high-conflict people do things that 90 percent of people would never do. The example Eddy gives is hitting a random stranger, just because they feel tired or stressed.

High-conflict people also have trouble with words; they are preoccupied with blaming others, have trouble expressing their emotions, and use all-or-nothing thinking. They also incite uncomfortable feelings in those around them and their behavior can only be described as extremely negative.

The best step is to simply avoid high conflict people, however, Eddy recognizes that for some people, this is impossible. In cases such as these, he suggests first connecting through empathy, analyzing alternative options, responding to misinformation and hostility, and setting limits on high-conflict behavior.

However, being aware of who we are dealing with has become increasingly difficult. Personal histories have been replaced with social media profiles. Families and communities have become weaker, and we are ever more subject to electronic manipulation. The TV show hosts and movie stars we watch often act like HCPs.

Yet high-conflict personalities are not new to our culture either.

“My belief is that the wiring of the high-conflict brain that causes their extreme behaviors has historically been as asset to society in wartime but can be unnecessarily disruptive in peaceful civilizations. Their prevalence seems to increase or decrease in history based on how well-organized or disorganized a society is at that given time,” writes Eddy.

Given that we are living in a time of rapid technological and social change, which has given rise to what many call a narcissism epidemic, we should be ever more aware of high-conflict personalities, and as Eddy suggests, “to try to have a balance of stability and flexibility in our relationships with others.”

While high-conflict people can become productive members of society, it is through becoming more aware and educated about them that we can live peaceful and productive lives. Even amongst them.
— Psych Central: Reviewed by Claire Nana


“[This] brilliant book on high-conflict personalities saves us from trusting the wrong people and making the worst relationship mistakes at work, at home, and in our lives. You need this information today!”


“5 Types of People Who Can Ruin Your Life is a must read for the average person dealing with a high-conflict individual at home or at work. It is also essential reading for counselors, lawyers, judges, mediators, physicians, and virtually all other helping professionals.”


“Essential. Entertaining. Easy. If you’ve ever been the deer in the searchlight, frozen by excessive language or wildly inappropriate actions, this book is your lifesaver. Just one high conflict person in your life can steal your peace of mind for years. With memorable acronyms, readable prose, and clear examples, you can know exactly what to do to get back to safety. I may lend my copy, I may buy 10 copies for people I love, but I will not give my copy away. I’m keeping it as my get-out-of-trouble free guide.”


“Must. Read. The beauty of this much-needed book by Bill Eddy lies in its elegant simplicity, its specific and straightforward approach to understanding, identifying, and defusing high-conflict behavior. Bill’s anecdotes, sample statements, and easy-to-remember techniques show readers how to protect themselves, set boundaries, and communicate limits, all with compassion and respect.”


“This book is full of easy-to-take-in information about high conflict personalities, and lots and lots of actionable tips. If you want to know HOW to stand up for yourself, and exactly WHAT to do, this book is for you. With case studies, short scripts to follow, and action steps, you’re all set for managing the high-conflict individual in your life. Just be sure you do take action!”


“What a terrific resource and reference book. This self-help manual will assist readers in dealing with destructive personalities in a positive way. This is a must read for everyone, and particularly for those in professions dealing with high-conflict personalities on a regular basis. What I love about it is that it is simple, clear and easy to remember—really a step by step guide in how to deal with destructive personalities in order to avoid causing them more distress and how to escape becoming their victim.”


“We have all encountered high-conflict personalities—in our personal lives, at work, and in our neighborhoods. 5 Types of People Who Can Ruin Your Life provides the reader with both a blueprint and the necessary tools to successfully survive these challenging people. We can’t change their personalities, but with this book we can learn how to effectively manage them.”


“No discussion of ADR is complete without reference to the works of Bill Eddy. Bill is Training Director and co-founder (with Megan Hunter) of the High Conflict Institute (“HCI”) in San Diego, California. He is a practicing attorney and social worker, as well as one of the most experienced mediators in the United States. For ten years HCI has specialized in studying high conflict persons and finding practical ways to deal with them. HCI’s website is www.highconflictinstitute.com. HCI is an excellent source of consultation, training, books and articles on some of the most difficult and potentially destructive individuals we may have the misfortune to confront.

High conflict persons (“HCPs”) are often positional, competitive, and inflexible, and they present a variety of other problems for themselves and others. They also are likely to become invested in the conflict itself. The problem with HCPs is exacerbated in that many of them also fit the category of persons with personality disorders (“PD”).

Although HCPs are a distinct separate category from PD, there may often be an overlap, since an HCP may also have one or more personality disorders. DSM-5, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the taxonomic and diagnostic tool of the American Psychiatric Association, lists 10 PDs in the latest edition, published in 2013. Bill considers five of them to be especially prone to becoming HCPs. These five categories are narcissistic, borderline, antisocial (also known as sociopaths), paranoid, and histrionic.

In his most recent book, 5 Types of People Who Can Ruin Your Life (Random House, 2018), Bill Eddy deals with the problems people with both conditions can cause for spouses, for anyone else who comes into contact with them, and for society. This is an essential book for divorce professionals, both as interesting and informative reading and as a book to keep on one’s desk “just in case.” The book is by no means limited to divorce or to negotiating divorce agreements. Its main focus is self-protection against persons with PDs and HCPs. The book applies to many situations other than divorce, especially those that arise in the workplace.

Both HCPs and persons with PDs present challenges in divorce cases. The basic characteristic of HCPs is that they are invested in conflict, while PDs are perhaps best described as persons with an engrained character defect. Bill Eddy diagrams and describes how a given individual may only be an HCP or have a PD, or may be an HCP with one or more PDs. The overlap cases tend to be more serious, as for example when an HCP is also a sociopath.

Bill Eddy lists three main characteristics of PDs as (1) interpersonal dysfunction, (2) lack of social awareness, and (3) lack of change. The four main attributes of HCPs, by contrast, are (1) lots of all-or-nothing thinking, (2) intense or unmanaged emotions, (3) extreme behavior or threats, and (4) a preoccupation with blaming others.

One attribute of both categories is that the cause of the condition is likely to long predate the emotions of the marriage or the divorce process, as well as the substantive issues of the divorce. However, these elements may well become more troublesome if one of the spouses in the divorce is either an HCP or has a PD. Bill examines the genesis of PDs and gives examples of both genetic and environmental (family systems) factors that may have caused the condition.

PD is a formal category in DSM-5, but HCP is not. However, the traits of an HCP may be part of some other specific psychiatric diagnosis. Unlike bipolar disorders and many psychotic conditions, which may often be successfully managed by medication, there are fewer mental health options for successful treatment or cure of either category of individuals. One of the main elements of these conditions is an inability to change.

That’s why Bill Eddy’s book, which focuses on how to deal with these persons in ways that avoid becoming a “Target of Blame,” a term Bill uses throughout the book, is so important for professionals.

The five PDs – narcissism, borderline, sociopath, paranoid and histrionic – each have distinguishing elements. Professionals should keep a copy of Bill Eddy’s book deskside is as a handy reference. He offers a one-sentence description for each of the PDs. For example, “cruel, con artist” for sociopaths. Then he lists the fear that most drives each. He follows that with the three main factors of each condition. Finally, he describes the emotions that someone is likely to experience in the presence of an individual with a PD. The emotional response to a sociopath is “a sense of danger, a need to be wary.”

For each PD, this book indicates the percentages of persons with that condition in the general society, and the percentages of males and females in each category, based on studies referenced in DSM-5. Narcissism and borderline have the highest percentages, although sociopathy is more serious in terms of its impact. That is also the condition for which gender is most one-sided, in that males are three times as likely as females to be sociopaths.

Since Bill Eddy’s book as about how to avoid problems with these persons, it is essential to keep in mind his recommendations as how to react when encountering one of them. For this purpose, he suggests one basic way NOT to respond in order to avoid becoming their Target of Blame. Never, he advises, tell an HCP that he or she is a high conflict person. The same, of course, would apply to someone with a PD. This engages them in exactly the wrong way and invites a negative, defensive response. Since high conflict people are by nature emotionally reactive, it is difficult not to be reactive to them in response. Bill’s contra-intuitive approach is much less likely to encourage them to keep the conflict going.

Bill is skilled in devising acronyms that jolt our memory. He postulates four of them: EAR, BIFF, WEB, and CARS. EAR - Empathy, Attention & Respect - is the most general of these, since it applies to a wide variety of situations including negotiation of divorce agreements. Empathy is understanding. Attention is showing that you are listening. Respect is not acting as if you are an enemy. This approach is useful in any negotiating, ADR or otherwise. It helps avoid being a Target of Blame.

BIFF stands for Bill’s four guidelines for the best ways to interact with high conflict persons: Brief, Informative, Friendly, and Firm. As with all of these acronyms, Bill Eddy provides useful examples in his book as to what each of these means and how it works. He also acknowledges that there is a danger that being too empathetic or friendly may invite manipulation from the PD or HCP. It’s the proper balance that counts.

WEB – Words, Emotions & Behavior – is an acronym for diagnosing. What is the PD/HCP is saying? What is your emotional (“gut level”) response to this person? What is bothersome about their behavior? Most of us tend to trust people. Bill Eddy counsels us that if what we are hearing, feeling, and observing would not come from 90% of the people we know, be wary. Our normal human response is to give people we don’t know the benefit of the doubt. WEB is a quick way to check whether that is appropriate in a given case. In his book, Bill gives examples of using WEB analysis with each of the five PD categories.

Finally, there is CARS – Connect, Analyze, Respond, Set Limits. Don’t avoid these persons, recognize them. Figure out what WEB is telling you. When you respond, never label the PD/HCP as such, even if you have a clear diagnosis. And, as always, when you are in doubt as to how to deal with a person you don’t know, keep it businesslike. And remember your own boundaries.

Bill Eddy points out that a PD or HCP may not come with an obvious label on their hat or lapel. Just because someone is a professional, or well-educated, or welldressed, or well-spoken, or charming doesn’t mean the he or she is not one of these persons. They may not be inherently evil. Everyone has something in their genetics, or environment, or family systems background, that may cause trouble as an adult. The two categories of individuals Bill describes may simply have too many of the genetic and experiential negatives coming together as they go through adult life.

There are other important reasons to read and retain 5 Types of People Who Can Ruin Your Life. There is a chapter about negative advocates – people who support PD/HCPs and become not only part of the problem, but at times part of the threat. The is a chapter on how to get help when you find yourself becoming a Target of Blame.

There is a great chapter at the end, “The HCP Theory,” in which Bill presents some of his thoughts as to how HCPs came to be. It includes some excellent analysis based upon left brain-right brain studies and studies of cultural influences.

Bill Eddy considers this book to be a capstone for his influential work with some of the most difficult individuals in our society. He includes some ideas as to the direction of modern society that relate to the main themes of the book. The book is clearly written, full of relevant categories and useful examples, and covers much more than the title might indicate. At a different level, however, it’s also a kind of insurance policy. One needs it even in the event there is only one future situation to which it might apply.”


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