High conflict people are everywhere among us. Because we are often caught off guard by them, Bill Eddy, author of 5 Types of People Who Can Ruin Your Life says we are also often unprepared for how to deal with them.
“There are five types of people who can ruin your life. They can ruin your reputation, your self-esteem, or your career. They can destroy your finances, your physical health, or your sanity. Some of them will kill you, if you give them the opportunity,” writes Eddy.
Kara is one example. While she initially drew the attention of Tom with her unique ability to pull him out of his shell and capture the attention of everyone at social events, their passionate courtship and marriage ended quickly with a restraining order based on false allegations, and seven years of court battles over their daughter.
People like Kara are extreme versions of what Eddy calls high conflict personalities.
“Unlike most of us, who normally try to resolve or diffuse conflicts, people with high conflict personalities (HCPs) respond to conflicts by compulsively increasing them,” writes Eddy.
Through choosing their targets of blame – usually someone close such as a coworker, friend, relative, or an authority figure – HCPs systematically turn minor conflicts into merciless wars.
And while Eddy describes five types of HCPs, they all share the following set of traits: interpersonal dysfunction; lack of social awareness; and lack of change. However, it is when personality disorders overlap with target of blame that they become especially dangerous.
“If and when you do encounter someone who falls in that overlapping area, you need to be able to recognize them, avoid them, and if necessary, deal with them. If you do avoid or effectively deal with them, you will save yourself a huge amount of trouble and heartache. You may even save your reputation, your sanity, or your life,” writes Eddy.
The good news is that people with high conflict personalities are surprisingly predictable. Eddy describes four primary characteristics: lots of all-or-nothing thinking; intense or unmanaged emotions; extreme behavior or threats; and a preoccupation with blaming others.
HCPs, however, should not be directly confronted.
“Never tell someone they are a high-conflict person, or that they have a personality disorder, no matter how obvious this may seem. They will see this as a life-threatening attack – and a valid reason to make you their central target of blame, perhaps for years to come,” writes Eddy.
What we should do instead, Eddy suggests, is pay attention to our emotions and not discount the sudden impulse to run, or fight, or freeze in someone’s presence, especially when it doesn’t match our thoughts.
“Here’s a common experience with an HCP: You listen to someone tell you how awful someone (i.e., their target of blame) is and then you start to have similar negative feelings of your own toward their target of blame,” writes Eddy.
One way to spot an HCP quickly is to observe what Eddy calls the “90 percent rule”, which states that many high-conflict people do things that 90 percent of people would never do. The example Eddy gives is hitting a random stranger, just because they feel tired or stressed.
High-conflict people also have trouble with words; they are preoccupied with blaming others, have trouble expressing their emotions, and use all-or-nothing thinking. They also incite uncomfortable feelings in those around them and their behavior can only be described as extremely negative.
The best step is to simply avoid high conflict people, however, Eddy recognizes that for some people, this is impossible. In cases such as these, he suggests first connecting through empathy, analyzing alternative options, responding to misinformation and hostility, and setting limits on high-conflict behavior.
However, being aware of who we are dealing with has become increasingly difficult. Personal histories have been replaced with social media profiles. Families and communities have become weaker, and we are ever more subject to electronic manipulation. The TV show hosts and movie stars we watch often act like HCPs.
Yet high-conflict personalities are not new to our culture either.
“My belief is that the wiring of the high-conflict brain that causes their extreme behaviors has historically been as asset to society in wartime but can be unnecessarily disruptive in peaceful civilizations. Their prevalence seems to increase or decrease in history based on how well-organized or disorganized a society is at that given time,” writes Eddy.
Given that we are living in a time of rapid technological and social change, which has given rise to what many call a narcissism epidemic, we should be ever more aware of high-conflict personalities, and as Eddy suggests, “to try to have a balance of stability and flexibility in our relationships with others.”
While high-conflict people can become productive members of society, it is through becoming more aware and educated about them that we can live peaceful and productive lives. Even amongst them.
5 Types of People Who Can Ruin Your Life
Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.
Softcover, 186 Pages