Getting along with people who have high conflict personalities (HCPs) can be very challenging.  Being married to one is particularly hair-raising.  Usual approaches for getting along and resolving conflict often don’t work.  When there is conflict, enlisting a mediator is one way of dealing with high conflict personalities.

HCPs do have certain recognizble characteristics.  They represent about 10% of the population.  So it’s not uncommon to have one in your family or life.  They have an enduring pattern of blaming which goes as follows:

  • dealing with high conflict personalitiesTheir cognitive distortions cause them internal distress;
  • They blame an external target for the distress;
  • They create emotional “facts” against the target;
  • If the distress persists, they seek advocates to help blame the target;
  • Their emotional “facts” and persuasion often win advocates;
  • The blame and lack of self-responsibility persists.

Tips for Dealing with High Conflict Personalities

Here are 14 tips:

  1. Be friendly.  With HCPs you have to pay much more attention to bonding because they are so sensitive to the slightest indication of rejection, criticism or abandonment.
  2. Connect with real attention, empathy and respect.
  3. If possible, keep an arm’s length relationship. Don’t try to get too close.  The closer you are, the higher the risk that the HCP will develop extremely high expectations.
  4. Don’t get angry with them or be critical.
  5. Be wary of agreeing with their blaming and the content they provide.  From the HCP’s emotions spring “facts” that are distorted but feel true to them.
  6. Establish boundaries.  Be warm but limited in the amount of time and emotional energy you spend on their upsets.
  7. Picture them as emotional five year olds who are confused and in trouble.  This may help you have more empathy for their behavior.
  8. Avoid volunteering to fix it for them.  They will often try to get you to do the all work required but generally it’s best to avoid doing more of the work than the HCP.
  9. Choose your battles and pick harmonious moments to discuss matters needing attention.
  10. Before trying to do problem solving with them, focus on the relationship itself so the HCP feels calm and not reactive or defensive.
  11. Don’t try to give them insight about their past behavior.  It will just trigger defensiveness.
  12. Instead talk about present options and likely consequences of each in simple terms.  Repeat as needed until they understand but don’t try to corner them into your preferred solution.  You want them to feel like they have a choice.
  13. Expect but don’t accept unacceptable behavior.  Apologize where appropriate for your own mistakes but don’t take responsibility for their behavior.
  14. Explain and enforce consequences of future misconduct.  They will often understand and respect the need for some discipline.

Much of the above comes from the writings and lectures of Bill Eddy, a specialist in dealing with high conflict personalities.