The majority of high conflict families include at least one person with a personality disorder, which taxes the skills for a divorce practitioner attempting client engagement. Dealing directly with that person would be the most effective way to help a troubled family struggling with a breakup.
Bill Eddy, the president of the High Conflict Institute of San Diego and the author of several books, including It’s all Your Fault!, has written “about personality disorders, how confusing they were, how persuasive they could be, and some of the methods for treating them.” A therapist before becoming a lawyer, Eddy knows how high conflict people (HCP) become embroiled in conflict over and over because their “behavior … increases conflict rather than reducing or resolving it. This pattern reoccurs over and over again in many different situations with different people.”
What seems in conflict at the time is not what increases the conflict; paradoxically, the “issue” is not the issue. Behavior is the issue, and it includes all-or-nothing thinking, unmanaged emotions, extreme behaviors, and blaming others.
With HCPs, conflict is the underlying personality pattern. “High conflict people have high-conflict personalities. Conflict is part of who they are. It’s a life-long personality pattern of thinking, feeling, and acting. Time after time, they avoid taking responsibility for their problems. Time after time, they argue against feedback, regardless of how helpful and truthful it may be. And time after time, they try to persuade others to agree with their rigid points of view and to help them attack their Targets of Blame. The issues come and go, but their personality traits keep them in conflict. Their problems remain unresolved and the stress on those around them often increases,” Eddy says.
A significant segment of society seems preoccupied with blaming others. HCPs seek “Targets of Blame” because blaming others helps them feel better about themselves and helps them unconsciously feel safer and stronger when they connect with other people. They’re constantly in distress and totally unaware of the negative, self-defeating effects of their own behavior. In a sense they are blind. Since HCPs can’t see the connection between their own behavior and their problems, their difficult behavior continues and their conflicts grow.
The underlying HCP personality pattern is rigid and uncompromising. Negative emotions dominate his or her thinking, with a blind spot on his or her behavior. HCPs cannot empathize and avoid responsibility for a problem or a solution.
What Eddy calls a “Target of Blame” preoccupy HCPs. These are usually someone very close to the HCP, such as a boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, parent, child, best friend or someone in an apparent position of authority, such as a supervisor, company, government agency, police, doctor, lawyer, politician. HCPs take aggressive action against that person, including lawsuits, employment complaints, spreading rumors, and even violence, in an effort to get that person to go away or change their behavior, so that the HCP will stop feeling so threatened inside. Many people with personality disorders do not focus on one person this way and are not able to sustain an attack against another person the way that HCPs do.