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!