Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Can We Afford High Conflict Divorces in 2009?

According to news reports, on December 24, 2008, Bruce Pardo dressed up as Santa Claus and killed his soon-to-be ex-wife, her parents, and six other people at her parents’ home outside of Los Angeles while they were enjoying a Christmas family gathering, then killed himself. A week earlier, Pardo and his wife were at court where they signed a court-form settlement agreement, which included terms that he pay her $10,000 the next day. Apparently he was unemployed since July 2008, was desperately seeking work, and had difficulty making spousal support payments (although they were waived in the final lump sum settlement). His neighbors, a new girlfriend, and members of his church reported that he was a friendly, cheerful man. However, the divorce was described as bitter. She got the dog he loved and the wedding ring he wanted back.
Most divorces don’t end this way. But in 2006, a survey of 131 family law attorneys in San Diego County showed that during their careers approximately half experienced having a client or opposing party seriously injured or killed. And in 2003, a few blocks from my home, a father killed his 14-year-old son and then himself, after being served with a restraining order after many years of an acrimonious custody dispute. He was also unemployed for much of the previous year.
In 2009, I am concerned that we are facing many stressors as a society: growing unemployment, growing home foreclosures, many troops returning from overseas with post-traumatic stress disorder, and more high conflict divorces. What is to be done?
This past year I attended a seminar on preventing youth mass murder, such as school shootings, shopping malls, etc. The presenter, James Garbardino, made a very powerful statement. He said that they can’t predict exactly who will commit a mass murder, but they have identified several factors that place a youth at high risk. Perhaps the key factor is whether there is at least one adult in the youth’s life who really cares about him – has a secure bond with him. This is a highly protective factor even for those who have many other risk factors. Having someone with a secure bond really seems to matter.
When people go through a divorce, some lose the most secure bond that they ever had – especially if they had an insecure childhood. This is no small event, even if it can be summed up in brief court papers to sound like a minor event. Add to that: loss of close contact with children and important relatives, loss of your income, loss of your house, and even loss of a beloved pet. Who can you turn to?
Current research shows that about 20% of the U.S. population meets the criteria for a personality disorder. And personality disorders are often “attachment” disorders – the result of insecure early childhood attachment. For those with these disorders, finding a secure bond with someone in adult life is much harder and the loss of this bond is much more devastating than it is for the average person.
So, where am I headed with all of this? I think there’s hope and opportunity for changing our divorce culture. Over the past several months, Megan Hunter and I and several others have been discussing a new approach to Family Court disputes over children, called “New Ways for Families,” a 3-Step method for making decisions about parenting without becoming a high conflict court case. This method includes a relationship with a confidential counselor for six weeks, followed by three sessions of Parent-Child Counseling, followed by family (or court) decision-making. New Ways for Families is designed to immunize families from becoming high conflict. For more information, see our website Home Page.
Perhaps this secure bond approach can reduce the trauma of divorce and protect children from being at the center of a high conflict case – and protect them from developing personality disorders themselves. Recently, family courts have been told to be less adversarial and attorneys have been told be more civil. Let’s start out the New Year giving people hope, rather than taking it away.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Personality Disorders in the News

A new study was released Monday, December 1, in the publication, Archives of General Psychiatry. This study is the most extensive of its kind.

The article, ‘Personality Disorders Affecting Young Adults’, as reported by the Associated Press brings home the difficulties parents, instructors, friends and relatives face in dealing with college-age Americans with personality disorders. In America today, this study confirms one of five young American adults have a personality disorder that interferes with their everyday life. These problems show up in roommate or neighbor disputes, workplace disputes and family disputes. People with personality disorders can be extremely rigid and difficult, yet they generally have no awareness of how their behavior affects others or hurts themselves. All age groups have a percentage of people with personality disorders, but young people may have a higher percentage because of changes in society over the past few decades. It’s a serious problem and treatment can help.

Check out my book, It's All Your Fault! 12 Tips for Managing People Who Blame Others For Everything for help dealing with people with high conflict personalities.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Wall Street's Fault!

What a month! For the first three weeks of September, I was in Australia giving seminars at their National Mediation Conference, a day with Human Resource Professionals for the national railroad (RailCorp), and four days teaching about High Conflict People to students and professionals at a Masters in Conflict Resolution university program. I watched the financial meltdown in the U.S. from a distance.

Then, I flew to Kentucky last week to give an all-day workshop for a conference of the United States Ombudsman Association and the Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts. It seems that interest in conflict resolution and high conflict personalities is alive and well, although our economy is not. Perhaps there are some lessons that overlap here.

First, Setting Limits (Part I): One of the key issues I study and teach is that high conflict people are risk-takers and they can’t stop themselves. Suddenly we, as a nation, are discovering that deregulation and other policies allowed some risk-takers to go too far. Whose fault is that? Well, who allowed deregulation to happen? Probably all of us, out of an eternal optimism and trust in others and trust in Wall Steet. And lack of knowledge of how high conflict people are increasing—and can’t stop themselves. The lesson learned? Hopefully, that WE need to keep setting limits so that the risk-takers who represent us financially and politically.

Second, Setting Limits (Part II): Congress is getting approval ratings these days around 15%. Whose fault is that? It seems to me that we have a choice every two years to provide consequences for many of those we elect, and our decisions can have a big impact on the rest. But who votes? Can’t blame that on Congress. WE need to set those limits on our politicians. We shouldn’t focus on blame. We should vote!

Interestingly, in Australia everyone is required to vote and they have strong penalties if you do not. I wonder if such a requirement in the U.S. would produce less self-interested and less extreme politicians.

Third, Reality-Testing: It seems that we, as a nation, got caught up in believing in a housing and credit market that had no limits. What were WE thinking? It seems to me that we were told it couldn’t last, but wishful thinking took over. Of course, the media fed this wishful thinking. Lesson learned? WE have to keep our own expectations and dreams balanced by reality. And we need to stop paying as much attention to the images of more and larger and richer that we are bombarded with everyday.

Fourth, Empathy Attention and Respect: Most of all, rather than looking for who to blame (it’s not just THEM, and it’s not just US), we need to recognize that these are normal human problems. Brain research suggests that we like to blame others (it makes us feel good about ourselves when things go wrong), and that we like to put a human face on our complex problems (someone else’s, of course). So let’s have a little empathy for all of us. It’s normal to want more. It’s normal to want complete freedom to make money. The question is finding the right balance between individual risk-taking and selfishness, and society’s general well-being. We are always learning. We have incredible abilities to change course and learn from our mistakes. What policies need to be changed? What expectations need to be changed? Which decisions led to this? And what decisions will lead us out of this? Rather than focusing on Who’s to Blame for this mess in the past, I hope that we focus on learning what all of us can do differently in the future.

Fifth, Flexible Thinking: It is tempting to solve the problem of over-spending and over-extending by cutting back in an extreme manner—using “all-or-nothing thinking.” The world economy will stabilize when each of us stabilizes. This means that we shouldn’t panic and stop buying and stop contributing to the economy to protect ourselves individually. The biggest lesson of all, in my thinking, is that we need to stay connected to each other in these troubled times. Best wishes!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Narcissism and the Meltdown

I don’t know if you saw an Associated Press article in your newspaper last week (10/7/08) about a Los Angeles area married man who killed himself, his wife, his three children and his mother-in-law. He was unemployed, previously worked in the accounting industry and was despondent over his extreme financial difficulties. Apparently he left a suicide note saying he considered two options: just killing himself or killing his whole family. He reportedly chose to kill his whole family, because it was “more honorable.” (San Diego Union-Tribune, 10/7/08, p. A4)

Why would someone do this? And what can we do to help prevent this from happening more widely? Some ideas came together for me yesterday while speaking about high conflict personalities with 230 domestic violence professionals in the Chicago area. They had a powerful display of life-size figures of women who have been killed by their husbands/boyfriends and T-shirts with writing by children whose parents were killed. The danger of domestic violence is on their minds every day and their work is so important. I used the above example to explain ways to work with Narcissists.

First, Recognize Narcissism for what it is: an unconscious human defense mechanism. Narcissists are preoccupied with their public image, because their very shaky self-image is managed by trying to look superior in public. Images of wealth, having honorable status, trophy spouses, children in the best schools, etc. often help narcissists cope with a deep underlying sense of powerlessness and inadequacy. When the public image is shattered, many narcissists cannot cope. Some become violent toward others, often those closest to them, who they blame for their own problems in their distorted and dangerous thinking. Others blame themselves. In either case, violence becomes a much higher risk.

Second, Narcissism is Widespread: Researchers indicate that each younger generation has become more and more self-centered and narcissistic over the past 50 years (and this seems to be worldwide). A very recent national study in the U.S. (Stinson, et al, Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, July 2008) determined that over 6% of our population meets the criteria for a narcissistic personality disorder. This means that over 18 million people in the U.S. may appear normal, but are stuck in a self-centered, self-defeating dysfunctional cycle of thinking, feeling and acting.

Third, There Need to be Consequences: Narcissists can’t stop themselves, whether it’s domestic violence or greed. However, when they know that there is a strong enough negative consequence, they will restrain their behavior. That’s what we just learned about Wall Street with insufficient regulations, and that’s what we know about domestic violence reoccurring when there aren’t strong legal consequences, like jail time.

Fourth, Don’t Diss the Narcissists: Taking a chapter title from my new book (“It’s All YOUR Fault!”), it is very important to resist the urge to criticize obviously narcissistic people when their fortunes turn sour. Resist the urge to say I told you so, and resist the urge to say Now look at you, Mr. Big Shot. DON’T tell people you think they are narcissistic. It might hurt you in the long run. Instead, give them your E.A.R.: Your EMPATHY (not sympathy—empathy means you can have similar feelings and frustrations), a little ATTENTION, and RESPECT them for their efforts and positive qualities as a person.

Fifth, You’re Not Alone: One of the surprising things about this financial meltdown is that it is worldwide and will affect everyone. No one individual is solely to blame for this (although those who have significant responsibility should have appropriate legal and financial consequences). We need to stick together. We need to let others know that we care and want them to know that there is more to living than making money. Perhaps the silver lining in all of this is that we will discover that we can care for people more than money after all!
Please check out my new book "Its All Your Fault".

Friday, August 29, 2008

Canada and the U.S. Response

Thanks for sharing your story. Your situation sounds similar to the California case I wrote about in High Conflict People in Legal Disputes in the 3rd chapter. In that case, a Father drove his car into the front of the building where the Mother worked. Then, he appealed his case based on “freedom of expression” (he lost, fortunately). What I’ve learned is that these extreme cases show up in all states and countries around the world. As a society, we need to learn how to contain this high conflict behavior, so that others don’t have to suffer. Best wishes.

Keeping Your Cool Response

The same approach applies to high conflict professionals. Don’t take their behavior personally. Don’t engage when you can avoid it. Get help for dealing with the necessary details, and let go as soon as you can. There’s more to life than fighting with HCPs. Best wishes.

Reigning In The Adversarial Process Response

Thank you for your feedback on my book. I’m glad it was helpful. My emphasis is on problem-solving rather than making “judgments” of people. I totally agree that we need to get better in the legal system at not making assumptions that all parents are good at parenting. There are cases when a parent needs supervised contact and very rare cases when no contact is appropriate, usually temporarily. Unfortunately, the court process is not good at figuring this out and sometimes they get these high conflict cases backwards. Fortunately, open-minded family court professionals are recognizing these problems and looking at ways to improve the system. The more that attorneys, judges and mediators learn about high conflict personalities, the more they will know what to look for and not make assumptions. Best wishes.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Reigning In The Adversarial Process

It occurred to me today, while working on several divorce cases and then reading the news, that family court and the presidential election have a lot in common. They are both adversarial systems that often produce more heat than light. The extreme statements we hear about each parent’s/candidate’s character contain lots of distortions, emotional reasoning, and “splitting.”

“My client/candidate is all-good and yours isn’t fit to parent/run the country.” “Your client/candidate is an evil monster who has manipulated everyone, is certifiably crazy, is lying and getting away with it, and would destroy the child/country.” Most people don’t buy these extreme statements, but there are enough Negative Advocates for each parent/candidate out there to influence a sizable minority with these extreme statements.

Somehow the “character issue” has grown in politics, but not in a meaningful way. Judging someone’s character as somehow good or bad, strong or weak, honest, loyal, etc. misses all the important points. There are no clear-cut “all-good” or “all-bad” characters. Instead, there is a wide diversity of personality traits and we need more of certain traits at different times, in different political environments. The question is: what personality traits would help us now the most? Rather than: who has “good” character and who has “bad” character?

Sometimes someone who is preoccupied with being strong is the wrong person to have as a parent/leader in a complex world. Strong domestic violence perpetrators are generally not good parents. Yet the same traits seem to be popular in the leaders of many countries today.

Years ago, President Bush said he looked into Russia’s President Putin’s eyes and could see his character, and saw that it was good. That settled the matter. Then Putin lead the invasion of Georgia and President Bush saw that his character was actually bad. To me, Putin was consistent throughout: as a leader with a history in the KGB, he has authoritarian personality traits and a history of deception. This doesn’t mean that he couldn’t be a negotiating partner and run a very popular government, but it means that he will always need to be contained—even while we talk to him. Rather than splitting, and viewing him as all-good or all-bad, we need to understand his personality and take a balanced approach from the start.

Now, as we consider Barack Obama and John McCain for president, I hope that we will avoid “judging their character” as all-good or all-bad. Instead, I hope that we will assess their personality traits in terms of open-mindedness, ability to reflect on their own behavior, willingness to consider others’ opinions, ability to respect and contain aggressive HCP political leaders, and most of all: able to learn and adapt as today’s world changes rapidly over the next four years.

The same thing applies when it comes to parents in high conflict divorce cases. I hope that we will avoid fighting over who’s the all-good parent and who’s the all-bad parent. We need to contain the worst behavior and respect them and help them to change where possible. We need to define and teach good skills to use for parenting in today’s world. The adversarial process teaches people to fight, to manipulate, to lack empathy for their enemies, and to think in all-or-nothing terms. It’s up to us to rein in this process and resist the urge to judge character in childlike extremes. I hope we succeed in both settings.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Keeping Your Cool with High Conflict People

Whether you are familiar with the dynamics of High Conflict People (HCPs) or not, one of the hardest things to do is to Keep Your Cool around them. This actually makes sense, once you understand HCPs.

Their high conflict behavior and emotions have the social purpose of grabbing your attention and making you feel responsible for fixing their problems. In many ways, they are like young children who feel afraid and helpless, and have learned a dysfunctional method of trying to enlist your help. It may have actually worked in their families when they were growing up, although these behaviors are dysfunctional in the adult world of close relationships and work relationships.

Recent research about the brain indicates that our emotions are contagious, and high conflict emotions are the most contagious. We unconsciously mirror what other people are feeling. Perhaps this is rooted in human group survival methods that developed long before we learned how to speak. Fear and anger are especially contagious and can grab you before you consciously realize it. Therefore, we have to actively resist the natural, unconscious, emotional pull that HCPs will have on us.

Here’s a few ideas I’ve been thinking about this week:

Remind yourself that it’s NATURAL to get emotionally hooked, and that you can get unhooked as soon as you recognize that this is happening to you. Just say to yourself: “Oops! I just got hooked. Now I can let go.” This often occurs when you are listening to someone complaining about all their problems, which are mostly self-created. You may suddenly feel responsible for their problems and either: 1) want to solve all their problems for them, or 2) want to criticize them for creating their own problems.

Either way, if you feel responsible for fixing their problems, then you got hooked. Now, remind yourself: “I have choices here. I can offer a suggestion and if they don’t want a suggestion, I can drop it. I can change the subject. I can leave the conversation. I’m not responsible for their problems.”

But what if you are in a position of responsibility? Perhaps you are their therapist or supervisor or lawyer or friend? Then, you have to remind yourself that you are not responsible for THEIR behavior or THEIR problem or THEIR solution. You are only responsible for being their therapist, supervisor, lawyer or friend, and doing the “standard of care” for your role. This doesn’t include fixing their problem, but rather doing normal, established procedures to assist them in solving their own problems.

For example, if their behavior in a legal dispute (such a child custody battle) or workplace dispute is inappropriate, take standard action and provide STRUCTURE (you may have to redirect someone’s energies or provide new instructions) or CONSEQUENCES (such as small-step-by-small-step disciplinary measures) as you and/or your organization would usually do. Be matter of fact. You’re not the cause and you’re not the cure (as they say in Alanon).

And always remember: It’s not about you! You don’t have to prove yourself. You don’t have to defend yourself. High conflict people act the way they do, because it’s who they are, not what you did. To read more on these and other subjects please go here

Good Luck! And have a cool summer! Bill

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Canada and the U.S.

This past week I was in Canada at a national family law conference. It took place at a lodge in a beautiful wooded part of Ontario with a large lake, about two hours north of Toronto. I had the opportunity to speak to approximately 200 family lawyers and judges on methods for handling high conflict divorce cases.

What amazes me is how similar the laws and issues are in our two countries. For example, interviewing children in high conflict divorce cases, and handling high conflict lawyers.

They have a law about obtaining the “Views of the Child,” based on a United Nations convention, which Canada has signed but the United States has not. However, their law is not specific regarding how the child’s views are to be obtained. In some cases, the judge will interview the child. In other cases, a social worker or psychologist – or even an attorney – will interview the child.

I can certainly understand the desire to give children an opportunity to participate in matters affecting their lives, however I believe that children should be protected from the legal decision-making process as much as possible. In California, we have Family Court Services counselors who interview children in high conflict cases, but in most cases keep them out of the decision-making process. I like this approach better than having a judge interview the child, because high conflict families are suffering from such disorganization that letting the child meet separately with the judge could turn the standard parent-child boundaries upside down – with the child in a superior position since his or her parents don’t get to meet separately with the judge. I believe it’s always better to have the children interviewed by a counselor who has also met the parents and who is trained in the dynamics of high conflict families. The role children play in dysfunctional families often reinforces the dysfunction, rather than helping to improve it. If professionals don’t realize that, it can often make matters worse.

Regarding high conflict counsel, it is interesting that other lawyers are the ones raising this issue more and more at my seminars this year around the U.S. and Canada. (For some reason, high conflict lawyers don’t seem to attend my seminars, so it’s been easy for those who do attend to discuss this issue.) Interestingly, I find that the same tools and tips that work to manage and contain high conflict clients also seem to generally work in managing high conflict counsel. It fits with the information that people with high conflict personalities seem to be increasing in our modern societies, regardless of what country you’re in.

There’s a lot of discussion of administrative bodies establishing civility standards, especially for the practice of family law. Of course, those lawyers who need them won’t follow them unless there are some consequences. And the 80-90% of family lawyers who already act reasonably don’t need a list of standards to follow.

We will see what evolves in our different states, provinces and countries. With everyone working on these same issues, we’re bound to develop some good approaches. We certainly need them as we are getting more and more high conflict cases in family courts – around the world!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

BOOK RELEASE: It's All Your Fault!

IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT! 12 Tips for Managing People Who Blame Others For Everything is hot off the press and now in our hands. It’s my new book loaded with practical methods for handling High Conflict People (HCPs) in any setting, including neighbor disputes, workplace conflicts, family battles, with strangers, etc. HCPs target those close to them and people in positions of authority, so in this book Bill focuses on what to do when YOU are the Target of Blame—and how to avoid (or prevent) being one for long. It is organized around 12 key Tips (5 Do’s and 7 Don’ts), which simplify large concepts into small, easy-to-remember phrases when you’re under the stress of a high conflict dispute.

This is the book for the general public, so you can give it to anyone. I have been working on it for the past three years (or so), so it includes a lot of my latest thinking and reading about the brain, personality development, interesting cases, and the importance of Negative Advocates on a community’s culture of conflict. It also has (of course) a cartoon for each chapter, from Peanuts, Dilbert, and The New Yorker.

The book goes beyond the information in my previous books, which focused primarily on HCPs in legal settings. I explain the four most common High Conflict Personalities, with an emphasis on understanding their High Conflict Thinking—and why it is so contagious. Once again, I give numerous examples—some real, some fictional—to demonstrate the very predictable dynamics of high conflict disputes.

High Conflict People seem to be increasing in today’s conflicts worldwide. As I say: “The issue’s not the issue; the High Conflict Personality is the issue.” So prepare yourself by reading IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT! Get it online at www.HighConflictInstitute.com

Chapters Include:

Part I: Understanding High Conflict People
Tip #1: Don’t Take Their Personal Attacks Personally
Tip #2: Don’t Give Them Negative Feedback
Tip #3: Don’t Bend Boundaries With Borderlines
Tip #4: Don’t Diss the Narcissists
Tip #5: Don’t Get Hooked by Histrionics
Tip #6: Don’t Get Conned by Antisocials
Tip #7: Don’t Be a Negative Advocate

Part II: Managing High Conflict People
Tip #8: Connect Using Your E.A.R.
Tip #9: Analyze Your Realistic Options
Tip #10: Respond Quickly to Misinformation
Tip #11: Set Limits on Misbehavior
Tip #12: Choose Your Battles

Beware of High Conflict Politicians

As the election season heats up, politician behavior becomes a major concern. Over the past 15 years, I have been an attorney and mediator (with a background as a therapist) dealing with “high conflict” disputes, such as divorces, workplace conflicts, neighbor disputes, business partnership breakups, personal injury lawsuits, etc. I have learned “The Issue’s not the issue” in these high conflict disputes. If you solve one problem, another will just take its place and the high conflict person (HCP) will just keep fighting, blaming, thinking only of him or herself, and contributing more to the problem than to the solution.

I’m seeing this same personality pattern in politics these days. For example, the District Attorney near Duke University loudly accused three students of raping a young woman from the neighborhood in a high profile case and blamed Duke for tolerating this behavior among its athletes. He was extremely blaming, loud—and wrong! He ignored the forensic evidence that showed it could not have been the students, and lost his license to practice law because of his extremely unethical (high conflict) behavior.

In New York, a high conflict governor just stepped down after it was revealed that he was a client in a prostitution ring. He might have escaped the loss of his office, except that he had alienated far too many people with his previous behavior as the Attorney General of the state. And, of course, we have a President who has earned himself the lowest approval ratings in modern history while focusing on everyone else’s behavior.

Surprisingly, the characteristics of high conflict people are there for all to see well before they crash and burn. The pattern I have repeatedly observed in divorce, workplace, business, legal and other disputes is that the high conflict person tends to be rigid and uncompromising, repeats failed strategies, is unable to accept and heal loss, makes everything personal, has emotions that dominate his or her thinking, is unable to reflect on his or her own behavior, avoids responsibility for the problem or solution, and is preoccupied with blaming others.

I see examples of this pattern in politics in my hometown of San Diego, where we are heading into elections with two races that involve particularly high conflict, blaming behavior.

I hope when you vote this year, that you consider this pattern of high conflict politicians and refuse to give them power—before they crash and burn, at our expense. We need political leaders who can work with others for the public good, rather than working against everyone else. The question isn’t: Who do you blame? It’s: What do we do now?

Thursday, February 7, 2008

HCP's In The News

I have been asked whether certain celebrities have personality disorders. A personality disorder is a long-standing mental health problem with a pattern of extreme thinking, feeling and behaving which generally began in childhood. This may include severe mood swings, unrealistic fantasies of great wealth and power, constantly dramatic emotions, extreme risk-taking, and lack of impulse control. A healthy dose of these characteristics may help people become successful actors, musicians, politicians, etc. But too much of these personality traits can be maladaptive and self-defeating, and drive them to behave in ways that undermine their success.

When you see people with personality disorders—in your own life or celebrities—you might think “they must know they are acting really badly.” But the reality is that they truly don’t get it. This is part of the disorder. They angrily defend and justify their dysfunctional behavior, even though it usually hurts them as much as anyone else. In reality, they are truly blind to their long-term problems. Even though they are hugely successful in one area, they lack self-awareness and the ability to adapt their behavior to new circumstances.

Of course, celebrities may have other mental health problems. Substance abuse and bi-polar disorder are common problems which cause dramatic public behavior. These can be treated with medications and sufficient counseling programs, if they are willing to stick with it. Usually people become aware that they have one of these mental health problems and they get help. On more rare occasions, someone may have a psychotic episode when they are out of touch with reality, such as having delusions or hallucinations, like hearing voices. This can also be helped with medications.

But when things go wrong for people with personality disorders (or lesser maladaptive traits), they intensely blame others and don’t want help. They don’t change their behavior, even when it hurts them. So their problems get worse instead of better. When they get stuck in a lot of intense conflicts with others, like high conflict divorces, I call them High Conflict People (HCPs), which is the subject of my books and seminars. Their personalities keep them in conflict, one issue after another.

Some people have both a personality disorder and another mental health problem. In many ways, it’s harder to treat the personality disorder, because medications don’t help much and they resist counseling. Also, many of the people around them like the drama and risk-taking behavior, so it convinces them that they don’t have any problems. So they don’t get help until its much, much worse.

The good news is that there is more help today than ever before for treating personality disorders. People with personality disorders are about 15% of the general population. I’ll bet there’s a few in today’s news. What do you think?

Monday, February 4, 2008

Help for Dealing with High Conflict Personalities

Instead of blaming back, you give empathy, attention, and respect (your E.A.R.). Instead of deciding who’s the bad guy and who’s the good guy, you help the parties focus on what positive behaviors each can contribute. Instead of reacting to high-intensity emotions, you acknowledge emotions and focus on the next tasks. Instead if trying to persuade HCPs to act differently, you set limits and build in consequences to your agreements or court orders. None of this is complicated, but it’s very hard to do when you are facing an angry, blaming, personalizing HCP. The bottom line is that it takes practice, practice, practice—and support and feedback from those you trust. And that’s the HCP Theory in a nutshell!

Monday, January 7, 2008

What is the HCP Theory?

After writing and teaching about High Conflict Personalities for the past 7 years, I finally decided to sit down and write the theory in a nutshell—right here! HCPs are people with High Conflict Personalities. The essence of the theory is that its not issues, but personalities that drive high-conflict disputes. And people with these personalities appear to have the same characteristics as Cluster B personality disorders or traits of personality disorders. This is good news, because mental health researchers have developed a lot of basic information about the patterns of personality disorders and how to deal with them. I have found in my practices as an attorney, mediator, and therapist that the same methods work with high-conflict personalities that work with personality disorders.

So what I write and teach is how to apply this mental health knowledge and skills to conflict resolution work. It’s not therapy, because the goal is not to change the person’s ongoing behavior, but to help the person (and those they get into conflicts with) to manage or resolve these conflicts. And it’s very important to know that non-therapists should not be trying to diagnose personality disorders or traits in those who get into high-conflict disputes. So attorneys, mediators, and other conflict resolution professionals should just recognize that people who are very rigid, uncompromising, emotionally overwhelmed, and blaming may have High Conflict Personalities and need special handling. There’s no magic to it—it just takes learning to do the opposite of what you feel like doing in many high-conflict situations.

Check back soon for tips to help you deal with HCP's!