Compassion for High Conflict People

  As the year draws to a close and we focus on holiday celebrations, wethink about others including the less fortunate. All year long, at our websiteand in seminars we talk about high conflict people (HCPs) and how to deal withthem. Sometimes we forget to emphasize compassion for them as well.

No one chooses to be a high conflict person or to have a personalitydisorder (there’s a lot of overlap). High conflict people have a lot ofall-or-nothing thinking, unmanaged emotions, extreme behaviors and arepreoccupied with a Target of Blame. From my experience, they are highlydistressed and lack the skills for satisfying relationships. They get stuck inconflict because they feel on the defensive, not because their goal is to makeother people miserable. They have great difficulty healing and accepting loss.It is too painful, so instead they fight to avoid losses and defeats – eveninsignificant ones. I think of having a high conflict personality as a seriousrelationship disability.

They tend sabotage themselves by pushing people away in an effort toavoid being abandoned (borderline HCPs), insulted (narcissistic HCPs), ignored(histrionic HCPs), dominated (antisocial HCPs) or betrayed (paranoid HCPs).They cannot see their part in this problem, so they often escalate theirself-defeating behavior – and therefore experience even more distress.

Just because many high conflict people are successful at something intheir lives does not mean they do not feel pain and lack meaningfulrelationships. It’s easy to pick on them when they seem to be successful on thesurface, such as having wealth, power, incredible beauty or other superficialrewards. Of course, most high conflict people do not have wealth, power,incredible beauty or other superficial rewards. The research shows that personalitydisorders are more prevalent among low-income people.

Over a century ago, Sigmund Freud wrote that love and work are themost important aspects of a human life. Yet close relationships in love andwork are where high conflict people have the most difficulty. In his book “TheSocial Animal,” David Brooks points out that close relationships are far moresuccessful at making people happy than work, money or real estate. The deeperthe relationships, the happier the person. How tragic it is that we seem tohave a growing population of high conflict people who will not be satisfied anddon’t know why.

While it’s easy to be critical of them and want to screen out highconflict people from our lives, it’s important for us to work on this issue asa society. Since people with personality disorders appear to be increasing (andmost high conflict people seem to have personality disorders or traits, whichmeans they don’t have insight into their own behavior and don’t change theirdysfunctional behavior), this problem is not one we can ignore. With HighConflict Institute we are committed to educating professionals and the generalpublic about these problems and how to set limits on high conflict behavior –while also having more empathy, attention, and respect for high conflict peoplethemselves.

Tis the season for compassion. We wish you and yours – and all theHCPs in our lives – a pleasant holiday season!

High Conflict Institute provides training and consultations, as well and books, DVDs and CDs regarding dealing with High Conflict People (HCPs) in legal, workplace, educational, and healthcare disputes. Bill Eddy is the President of the High Conflict Institute and the author ofIt's All Your Fault!, Splitting, BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, Their Hostile Emails, Personal Attacks and Social Media Meltdowns and Don't Alienate the Kids!. He is an author, attorney, mediator, and therapist. Bill has presented seminars to attorneys, judges, mediators, ombudspersons, human resource professionals, employee assistance professionals, managers, and administrators in 25 states, several provinces in Canada, France, Sweden, and Australia. For more information about High Conflict Institute, our seminars and consultations, Bill Eddy or to purchase a book, CD or DVD, visit: