Who Are High Conflict People?
Below is an excerpt of an article I wrote in 2012 for the purpose of identifying High Conflict People. We find them everywhere in our lives, dealing with them, successfully, takes a special understanding. To read the full article, click the link provided.
© 2012 by Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.
In 2003, I used the terms High Conflict People, High Conflict Personalities and HCPs in a self-published book titled High Conflict Personalities: Understanding and Resolving Their Costly Disputes. (I couldn’t get a publisher because they said there was no interest in this subject.) The term “high conflict” had been around for at least twenty years, especially in regard to “high-conflict families” in divorce. I wanted to shift the focus to describe and deal with individuals, since it seemed that many high-conflict families included only one high-conflict person – and that dealing directly with that person would be the most effective way to help the family.
Since I had been a therapist before becoming a lawyer, I knew about personality disorders, how confusing they were, how persuasive they could be, and some of the methods for treating them. Yet no one outside of psychiatric treatment seemed to have a clue about their behavior – and often reacted in ways that made things worse. Since I was also seeing the same personality-disordered behavior in workplace disputes and neighbor disputes, as well as non-divorce legal disputes, I wanted to explain to others what was going on. People with personality disorders were showing up in all of these settings as “high-conflict” people, where their behavior was interpreted as simply about the current “issue,” rather than about the need for serious mental health treatment. Now, after a dozen years of focusing on this subject, I want to explain my current understanding of these terms in this article, and how to use them in a positive and practical way.
An Observable High Conflict Pattern
High-conflict people (HCPs) have a pattern of high-conflict behavior that increases conflict rather than reducing or resolving it. This pattern usually happens over and over again in many different situations with many different people. The issue that seems in conflict at the time is not what is increasing the conflict. The “issue” is not the issue. With HCPs the high-conflict pattern of behavior is the issue, including a lot of:
All-or-nothing thinking: HCPs tend to see conflicts in terms of one simple solution rather than taking time to analyze the situation, hear different points of view and consider several possible solutions. Compromise and flexibility seem impossible to them, as though they could not survive if things did not turn out absolutely their way. They often predict extreme outcomes if others do not handle things the way that they want. And if friends disagree on a minor issue, they may end their friendships on the spot – an all-or-nothing solution.
Unmanaged emotions: HCPs tend to become very emotional about their points of view and often catch everyone else by surprise with their intense fear, anger, yelling or disrespect for those nearby or receiving their comments over the Internet – or anywhere. Their emotions are often way out of proportion to the issue being discussed. This often shocks everyone else. They often seem unable to control their own emotions and may regret them afterwards – or defend them as totally appropriate, and insist that you should too.
On the other hand, there are some HCPs who don’t lose control of their emotions, but use emotional manipulation to hurt others. They may trigger upset feelings in ways that are not obvious (sometimes while they seem very calm). But these emotional manipulations push people away and don’t get them what they want in the long run. They often seem clueless about their devastating and exhausting emotional impact on others.
Extreme behaviors: HCPs frequently engage in extreme behavior, whether it’s in writing or in person. This may include shoving or hitting, spreading rumors or outright lies, trying to have obsessive contact and keep track of your every move – or refusing to have any contact at all, even though you may be depending on them to respond. Many of their extreme behaviors are related to losing control over their emotions, such as suddenly throwing things or making very mean statements to those they care about the most. Other behaviors are related to an intense drive to control or dominate those closest to them, such as hiding your personal items, keeping you from leaving a conversation, threatening extreme action if you don’t agree, or physically abusing you.
Blaming others: ... (click here to read the full article)
About Bill Eddy Bill Eddy, L.C.S.W., J.D. is a family law attorney, therapist and mediator, with over thirty years’ experience working with children and families. He is the Senior Family Mediator at the National Conflict Resolution Center in San Diego, California. He is also the President of the High Conflict Institute, which provides speakers, trainers and consultants on the subject of managing high-conflict people in legal disputes, workplace disputes, healthcare and education. He has taught Negotiation and Mediation at the University of San Diego School of Law and he teaches Psychology of Conflict at the Strauss Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine University School of Law. He is the author of several books, including:
For more information about Bill Eddy, please visit: www.HighConflictInstitute.com.