MANAGING HIGH CONFLICT PEOPLE IN COURT: The Role of Cognitive Distortions

© 2011 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.

An excerpt from Managing High Conflict People in Court. Ideal reading for judges, lawyers, mediators, and anyone who is connected with family courts.

Cognitive Distortions

One of the largest problems of those with personality disorders in conflict situations is their significant distortion of past events, current relationships and future expectations.

Over the past thirty years, cognitive researchers (Burns, 1980; Beck, 1990) have identified several cognitive distortions, which are generally unconscious and distressing to the person. The following are examples of cognitive distortions (thinking distortions) in laymen’s terms:

• All-or-Nothing Thinking - seeing things in absolutes, when in reality little is absolute

• Emotional Reasoning - assuming facts from feelings (I feel stupid, therefore I am)

• Personalization – taking personally unrelated events, or events beyond your control

• Mental Filter – picking out a single negative detail and dwelling on it

• Fortune Telling – believing that you know the outcome of events, when you cannot

• Labeling – eliminating the realities of life with broad, negative terms (dummy, failure)

• Mind-reading – believing that you know what other people are thinking or intending

• Minimizing the Positive, Maximizing the Negative - distorting reality to fit your biases

• Over generalization - drawing huge conclusions from minor or rare events

• Wishful Thinking – expecting positive outcomes from unrelated or negative behavior

• Projecting – blaming others for thinking, feeling or behaving in ways that you are

actually thinking, feeling or acting but can’t see in yourself because

• Splitting – seeing certain people as absolutely “all-good” or “all-bad,” so that the all good person is justified in extremely fearing, hating or hurting the all-bad person

Each of these cognitive distortions may be more or less severe for a particular person at a specific time. However, those with personality disorders tend to have chronic cognitive distortions.

Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator. He is the co-founder and Training Director of the High Conflict Institute, a training and consultation firm that trains professionals to deal with high conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books and methods for handling high conflict personalities and high conflict disputes with the most difficult people.