Josh Powell Case: Times of High Risk ARE Predictable

© 2012 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.

None of us can predict who is going to commit a family murder, such as the murder-suicide of Josh Powell and his two young sons this week. But we can predict people of high risk and times of high risk. Randi Kreger and I wrote about this in our book SPLITTING: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Many people with these two disorders, plus antisocial personality disorder, engage in extreme relationship behavior, although most are not violent. Because of the nature of these disorders they have a great inability to handle loss, so that there are key times of risk for extreme behavior, as we said in the following excerpt from SPLITTING: Key Times of Risk of Extreme


  • You say you want to separate.

  • You separate.

  • You make requests (no matter how reasonable) that represent loss to your partner.

  • You serve papers on your partner that request court orders he won’t like.

  • You attend a court hearing to get orders your partner won’t like.

  • The court makes orders against your partner.

  • Your partner loses more time with the child than she expected.

  • Your partner has less contact with you than he expected.

  • Your legal case ends.

  • You start a new relationship, get married, or have a child.

  • Your former partner experiences a major setback in his own life later on.

  • You or your partner seek to modify custody, support, or both later on.

You may view each of these events with a sense of hope and relief. Finally, you are bringing an end to the chaos, fear, and emotional and financial drain on your life! But first, you must protect yourself from physical danger and prepare for the court process (even while making efforts to resolve your case out of court).

Physical Safety The news features more and more stories about people who are undergoing a divorce seriously harming a partner, the children, or both. While such stories are still very rare, they are a warning to consider physical danger at the key times just described. Since people with BP and NP (and antisocial) traits have predictable patterns of behavior, think about your partner’s past behavior.

  • Has your partner made threats of violence toward you or your children?

  • Does your partner have a history of violent or impulsive behavior?

  • Does your partner have a substance-abuse problem?

  • Does your partner have easy access to weapons?

All of these items are potential risks for physical harm when you’re involved with someone with BPD, NPD, or ASPD, and all must be taken seriously.

In most murder cases, there were warning signs of serious danger—but not always. Sometimes you will have a gut feeling that tells you physical protection may be necessary. In many cases, there was a series of recent losses, such as:

  • A job loss

  • Loss of a house

  • Separation from a partner

  • Significantly reduced contact with a child

  • A change of custody

  • The loss of a pet or other property

Some people with BPD, NPD, and ASPD can’t handle this growing series of losses when they sense no hope for their future.

With domestic violence perpetrators (who, in Bill’s observation, are mostly people with BPD, NPD, and ASPD), the risk of violence can be highest at the time of separation, because the partner with the PD tries to stop the losses of control, attachment, and inflated self-image. Repeated losses at court may add up to an increased risk of danger later in the case. Many cases in the news refer to the violent actions of a distraught partner who expects to lose contact with, or custody of, a child at an upcoming hearing. In some cases, the risk is highest when the battle finally ends and the fantasies of continued contact and control of you through the court process are over.

If you’re concerned about your physical safety, find out about resources in your area, and consult a therapist or lawyer as soon as possible to evaluate your risk. Ideally, you should do this before even discussing a separation or divorce. But consider physical safety throughout your case, especially at each of the key times previously described.

Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator. He is the co-founder and Training Director of the High Conflict Institute, a training and consultation firm that trains professionals to deal with high conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books and methods for handling high conflict personalities and high conflict disputes with the most difficult people.

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