“I’m not blaming you, I’m just saying it’s all your fault!”
There are certain people we meet throughout our lives that really make life miserable for everyone around them. Whether you knew it at the time or not, I am sure we have all met at least one such person. They habitually blame anyone else for problems they created for themselves, have no genuine empathy (which is evident in how frequently you will witness them trying convince people of the contrary), and ALWAYS seem to be conjuring up some form of trouble. There is a subset of these individuals called “high conflict people”, the majority of which typically have some kind of personality disorder such as borderline or narcissistic personality disorder. Certain high-conflict people have some maladaptive personality traits, but not quite enough to constitute a full-blown personality disorder diagnosis. For these people , it is possible for them to have some self-awareness and make some attempts to change.
It important to note that not all people with BPD and NPD are HCP’s, and alternatively, not all HCP’s have a personality disorder. You will find that there are some that simply have the traits. Additionally, there is a significant number of people with BPD that try to avoid conflict in its entirety, and who are more likely to harm themselves than anyone else. Understanding the areas in which these disorders are inextricably intertwined allows us to focus on the behaviors instead of the reason for them. The term is also beneficial because it guides us in responding adequately when signs are present.
HCP’s (along with the others we already mentioned) have a very distinct personality pattern consisting of skewed or distorted emotions, actions, and thoughts. They are predictable in that they habitually avoid taking responsibility for their problems. Time and again, they argue against feedback, despite how helpful and truthful it may be. Furthermore, they constantly try to persuade anyone that will listen to agree with their uncompromisingly rigid points of view in an effort to help them attack and vilify those who become the focus of their blame.
A high-conflict person regards themselves as a victim or injured party, always claiming they are the target of someone else’s shortcomings (many times you will see this trait manifest itself in long winded, melodramatic, “woe is me”, theatrical performances in which they take center stage). The issues they have may come and go, but it is their personality which keeps them in constant conflict. They never seem to learn from their experiences or mistakes. There is an old cliché I’ve used many times in the past that states “He would cut off his own nose to spite his face”. Many would agree, myself included, that this saying was written precisely for them, which becomes painfully evident when we review legal disputes.
High-conflict people are highly prone to the following thoughts, feelings, and actions:
- They split, or engage in all-or-nothing thinking
- Their negative feeling shape their reality (“feelings equal facts”…and they think they ALWAYS know better than EVERYONE else)
- For the most part, their emotions are intense and fluctuate rapidly
- They have difficulty empathizing with others
- They have a hard time accepting and healing from a loss
- Their behaviors are extreme, in keeping with their distorted thoughts and feelings
- They’re preoccupied with blaming other and do not take responsibility for their actions
When we say that HCP’s engage in all-or-nothing thinking we mean that they live in a world in which everything is black and white. It is common for them to not analyze situations they find themselves in hear different points of view, or consider other possible solutions to problems. Things must be their way, and they’re not willing to be flexible or compromise because it feels like everything is at stake.
This next part never fails to be a source of amazement for me these days. An HCP’s negative feelings shape their reality (“feelings equal facts”). They base their view of themselves, situations, and others on what they’re feeling at that moment rather than objective reality. They cannot fathom why it is people around them might, and usually do, perceive them as being irrational. The truth is, many people find that they are dumbfounded by the raging, blaming, or self-destructive actions of the HCP.
Their emotions are extremely intense and fluctuate rapidly. This, in my opinion, tends to me one of the more readily noticeable traits and is particularly the definition of BPD and typical of vulnerable NP’s. Grandiose NP’s are excluded here, as they tend to manage their own shallow, empty feelings while simultaneously exploiting or manipulating others to carry out their wishes. They are extremely arrogant and insensitive, so much so that they are a knack for seriously hurting or infuriating the people around them while the HCP remains clueless about why others are making such a big commotion. An example of what a grandiose HCP might think, “This person is trying to insult me, but I am so superior that it doesn’t bother me at all. I’ll just point out his or her stupidity when next I have the chance.”
People with BPD are especially too self-absorbed and egotistic, just like those with NPD see others as chess pieces on the black and white chessboard of their lives, and therefore they have a very difficult time empathizing with others.
It has been said that people facing huge losses go through the following stages to grieve:
HCP’s, however, always seem to be stuck in the anger stage, and will fight for years to prevent the feeling of loss within a relationship they are involved in. It can be many years down the road, HCP’s will still experience intense emotions when something reminds them of a prior “abandonment, almost as if it just happened yesterday. HCP’s have been known to engage in:
- Getting revenge on those who leave (such as destroying possessions or threatening a family pet)
- Prolonging divorce and custody of proceedings
- Continually changing their mind about ending a relationship
- Threatening to leave the relationship in a childish attempt to scare the other person into begging them to stay (this type of reassurance is like crack to them, they live for it)
With intense emotions comes extreme behaviors. They become so caught up with a particular target of blame that they take aggressive actions against their target. Shoving, hitting, spreading lies and rumors, obsessive stalking, and the silent treatment are all examples of some of the behaviors an HCP might engage in. Most of these excessive behaviors are directly linked to them losing control over their emotions, while others are related to their drive to control or dominate you. This might include hiding your personal items, keeping you from leaving a conversation, or threatening extreme action if you do not agree with them.
Blaming others helps them feel safer, stronger, and better about themselves They’re CONSTANTLY in crisis and blind to the negative, self-sabotaging effects of their own behavior. In a sense, they are emotionally blind (even though they usually perceive things as being the exact opposite). These types of people fail to see correlation between their actions and their consequences, which results in the progression of their difficult behavior and disposition and growing conflicts.
HCP’s usually try to persuade others over to their side, like negative advocates to be used against the targets of their blame. I like to refer to this as the blind leading the blind. To avoid confronting their own behavior, HCP’s engage negative advocates to enable the things they do, convinced that they are always in the right. This is why nothing changes and their high-conflict situations continue.
Family, friends, or professionals acquaintances are all examples of the type of people an HCP may try to make their negative advocates. Their purpose is to help in the blaming of another person, which subsequently escalates the conflict (also like crack to people of this sort). If the HCP is your partner, typical negative advocates are almost always your partner’s immediate (and almost always dysfunctional) family, friends, roommates, etc., who are convinced you are an abusive person to their innocent child, brother, friends, whatever the case may be.
HCP’s are notorious for searching through information to identify the criteria that pertain to any of the relative disorders. They do this to see if they can see themselves, along with anyone around them, within the descriptions for each diagnosis. It is recommended by psychiatrists, therapists, and countless others who have any experience dealing with individuals which fall into any of these classifications, to have a private working theory that someone may be an HCP. People are strongly urged not to tell the person you suspect may be an HCP, as it is almost a sure bet that this will make you an enemy (as tends to be the case in these situations). The best way to approach the issue is to focus on strategies to help you be more effective in managing your relationship. It is also highly advisable to speak with a professional regarding your own mental health, as frequent interactions and exposure to these individuals can easily result in the deterioration of your own mental state. Living day to day with someone that exhibits these traits is anything but easy, and it goes without saying that if you choose to remain in a relationship with someone who has any combination of HCP, BPD, or NPD, it is going to require nerves of steal and the patience of god damned saint.
For example, someone with HC/BPD will consistently misinterpret what you and other people intend to mean in even the most non-threatening conversations. They have a tendency to be excessively controlling and volatile by nature, acting like they have a real chip on their shoulder. Other times, they can be loud and boisterous, kissing around in a sarcastic and childish manner, and always needing to be the center of attention (be it good or bad). Some have a “nice act”, or altruistic facade they use when around certain people. They are known to be patronizing and condescending at varying times, and many people in their lives will either walk on eggshells around them, withhold information from them intentionally, or avoid them altogether eventually, not knowing what will set off the next episode of irrationality. They can be VERY demanding of their friends and partners in terms of their expectations and because of this, they constantly have people “breaking-up” with them as a lover or friend. Those who are close to them are constantly experiencing high stress feelings and emotions, and are frustrated by always having to accommodate their demands and put out the fires they start.
If you are reading this and realizing that you may be a high-conflict person, that is probably the single biggest step someone in your shoes can ever take. HCP’s very rarely are able to self-reflect because it is usually everyone else’s fault but theirs. I suggest that you consult with a GP and explain the problem with them. Your GP will probably know where you can turn to with your issue and direct you to a mental health professional best equipped to provide you the help you will need. These can be terribly destructive personality disorders, especially in mothers with children who adore their mommy and think her behavior is perfectly normal.