This post is based on the work of Bill Eddy from the High Conflict Institute. I had the distinct pleasure of being a student in his class at Pepperdine Law.
Individuals who are high conflict can and will make your life hell. You may not see the signs at first but their high conflict nature will become patently clear once you decide to end your marriage. Everyone expects there to be conflict when it comes to divorce but conflict with a High Conflict Person (HCP) is never ending. Here are some things you should know about HCPs.
What They Do
Blame: You can count on an HCP to blame you, blame their dog, blame their boss, blame a stranger, and blame Jesus, Buddha and the Devil all in one breath. (Okay I know I’m exaggerating, a bit.) An HCP always needs someone to blame when things go wrong because they refused to blame themselves. Just because they blame you doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong. Even if you have done something wrong it will usually pale in comparison to what the HCP has done. They want someone else to blame because they really and truly can’t handle the truth about themselves.
Splitting: HCPs tend to have all-or-nothing thinking. They see people in terms of black or white, good or bad. They refuse to recognize the shades and nuances in people’s characters and behavior. They can be easily offended and end relationships on the spot because of feeling they were mistreated in some way.
Overly Emotional: They tend to weaponize their emotions. Some HCPs use their emotions to justify their mistreatment of others. Others refuse to show you any emotions and use that as a tool of manipulation. Either way an HCP uses their emotions to try to get their way.
Extreme Behavior: An HCP is not afraid to lie, stalk, spread rumors, assault or do any number of things against you. They display these behaviors for one of two reasons: they have unregulated emotions and refuse to control themselves or they want to reestablish their control over you.
What To Know
High Conflict individuals have a predictable pattern of behavior. As their spouse you can already predict what will set them off and possibly how they will respond. They tend to drag out conflict. They often make up conflict making big deal about something very minor. These people are not reasonable and will escalate conflict if they can. They are constantly moving the goal posts. They are never happy with what you do to make them happy. They are never, ever satisfied.
What To Do
Well for starters don’t tell them they are high conflict, that will only make you a target of blame. If you’re divorcing someone who is beyond difficult then you’re already their target of blame. Your goal should be to not add more fuel to the fire. When interacting with them stay calm and do your best to put on a poker face so they don’t see that they are pushing your buttons. If it is unsafe to be around them in person then don’t be around them in person. Limit your communication with them. Keep your conversations and messages short and to the point. The less you say the less they have to take out of context. The less words you use the less opportunities they have to escalate conflict.
Please know that you are not to blame for their behavior. It is very likely that you did nothing wrong. They are making something out of nothing. Manage your expectations and know that you’ll probably never have a picture perfect coparenting relationship. That’s okay. Focus on your own mental health and that of your children. Learning how to managing a HCP will make your life a little bit easier.
Here are some book by Bill Eddy that I recommend: