Question from Reader: When to let go of insight as a reasonable objective?

©2017 Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.

We received the following question from a reader.  All our methods focus on behavior change moving forward rather than focusing on past bad behavior – as high conflict people don’t have the skills to self-reflect. So, as therapists and other helping professionals, how do you know when to let go of insight as a reasonable objective? Excellent question.


The old way of thinking, working with people was to facilitate insight and with that insight people would make better, more informed choices. The new way of thinking, particularly as it pertains to persons with a high conflict personality is to forget insight and work on a go-forward basis.

My question or issue is this, how do we know when to let go of insight as a reasonable objective? Should we still try to facilitate some degree of self-discovery first? How do we know when one route or another is preferred and can there ever be middle ground where a bit of insight may be helpful. I guess I am asking about nuance. I think the challenge for many is developing the critical or flexible thinking to help determine when/when not.


That’s a very good question. I believe that insight works about one’s own behavior when you’re reflecting on different skills you already have. (“I shouldn’t have yelled at the customer.”)

But upset people and high-conflict people generally lack a full range of self-management skills, so feedback doesn’t give them insight to use skills they don’t have. (“I had to tell at the customer, after what he said to me!”) Instead, they get defensive because they did what felt normal and necessary to them–until they learn new ways of doing things. Then, some people have the insight that the new skill works better.

An easy way to see if insight will work is to ask yourself: Will this person get defensive and resentful if I talk about their past behavior, or will they be interested in my feedback? If your gut feeling or thought is that it will go badly, then just focus on future skills and behavior. If you think the person will be open to your feedback, then give it a try. You’ll find out by their response–thoughtful or defensive.

Of course, part of this depends on your relationship with the person. If they feel secure with you, then some insight may be helpful and not trigger defensiveness.

Mostly the answers depend on who you’re dealing with. So don’t think of this as a rule, but rather as a tool and see what fits.

BILL EDDY, LCSW, ESQ. is the co-founder and Chief Innovation Officer of the High Conflict Institute in San Diego, California. He pioneered the High Conflict Personality Theory (HCP) and is viewed globally as the leading expert on managing disputes involving people with high conflict personalities. He has written more than twenty books on the topic and has taught professionals in the U.S. and more than ten countries.

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