high conflict personalityWhen a conflict goes on and on and is especially acrimonious, very often one or both of the parties has a high conflict personality (HCP). These individuals often don’t respond to normal mediation and other alternative (non-court) dispute resolution approaches. This post describes the characteristics of HCPs to help in recognizing them. There are ways a mediator (and anyone who has to deal with them) can work more effectively with a high conflict personality. I draw in large measure from the excellent work and writings of Bill Eddy, who specializes in this subject.

High Conflict Personality – Divorce

All of us in moments of major upset can display some characteristics of an HCP. With a high conflict personality, however, the characteristics have become ingrained into their regular way of dealing with conflict and to some extent, their life in general.   It is estimated that HCPs make about up 10-15% of the population. Conflict resolution takes significantly longer when they are involved. Ordinary reasoning normally doesn’t resolve the dispute nor cause meaningful change.

High Conflict Personality Characteristics

Here are four basic HCP characteristics:

  • Preoccupied with blaming others;
  • All-or-nothing thinking;
  • Unmanaged emotions that are often exaggerated;
  • Extreme and inappropriate behaviors.

Other common characteristics are as follows:

  • self-centered;
  • unreasonable;
  • defensive about receiving any feedback and immune to negative feedback;
  • difficulty connecting present actions to future consequences;
  • unconscious cognitive distortions cause them to act in illogical and self-defeating ways;
  • bend facts to fit their emotional state;
  • repeatedly get into interpersonal conflicts;
  • minor problems can become major disputes;
  • denial of responsibility for resolving conflicts;
  • see themselves as victims;
  • history of abuse in childhood.

HCPs often but not always have one of four personality disorders, but are usually undiagnosed as such:

  • borderline;
  • narcissistic;
  • anti-social;
  • histrionic.

Many high conflict personality individuals are very successful in aspects of their life. Generally their acquaintances will be unaware of their underlying high-conflict nature. It is often only in their intimate relationships that they “act out.” In divorce cases that are intractable and/or end up repeatedly in court, usually one or both spouses are holding fast to the belief that “it’s all your fault.” When such a position is rigidly held, it’s usually not from the factual interactions of the spouses but rather more likely from the personality of a high conflict individual.