Can High-Conflict People Change?

  Can High Conflict People Change?   ©2019 Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.   This is an increasingly important question in many areas of modern life, including in love relationships, in the workplace and in legal disputes. Major decisions are often made by assuming that someone will or won’t change their negative behaviors. Yet there are many factors that influence the likelihood that a difficult person will change—or not. The three most important factors are: which type of high-conflict personality they have, how severe their behavior is, and what their environments reinforce.   5 Types of High Conflict People High conflict people (HCPs) tend to have a pattern of behavior that increases or keeps conflicts going, rather than calming or resolving them. They tend to have four key characteristics: preoccupation with blaming others (their Targets of Blame) lots of all-or-nothing thinking (and solutions) unmanaged emotions (which often throw them off-track) extreme behaviors (that 90% of people would never do) Once you see these four characteristics, there is a lot that you can anticipate: they rarely seek counseling, they vigorously defend their past behavior, and they escalate their attacks on those they blame (which often includes new Targets of Blame over time). In other words, they are locked into their high-conflict behavior patterns and resistant to change. They see all of their problems as caused by other people, so they are not motivated to change on their own. But a small percentage do change, with a combination of coercion (family, workplace and/or court) and good programs of change, as described in this article. The more severe the patterns of high conflict people, the more likely they are to also have a personality disorder. This is a mental health disorder that shows up primarily in interpersonal relationships. There are ten types of personality disorders in the Diagnostic Manual of Mental Health Professionals (DSM-5). Fundamentally, those with personality disorders have a narrower range of behavior than most people, with three traits that make them resistant to change, which is why they are called disorders: interpersonal dysfunction lack of self-reflection lack of behavior change Not all people with personality disorders are HCPs preoccupied with Targets of Blame. But five of the ten types of personality disorders are particularly prone to high-conflict behavior patterns: borderline, narcissistic, antisocial, paranoid, and histrionic. These five have different patterns of behavior, which make them have more or less potential to change. Overall, its harder to change one’s personality-based behavior than to recover from alcoholism or another addiction—which is never easy. Here are the five types of high-conflict personalities and their likelihood for behavior change.   Borderline HCPs High-conflict people who have traits of borderline personality disorder (BPD) usually have the following key patterns of repeated interpersonal behavior in addition to the above characteristics: wide mood swings (from loving or friendly, to intense blaming or hatred) sudden and intense anger (disproportionate; especially when they feel abandoned) seeing people as perfect or terrible (sometimes swinging back and forth about this) The good news is that therapies have been developed over the past twenty years or so which have had some good success for those with this disorder, if they are willing to get the therapy. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) focuses on teaching small skills in small steps, with a lot of repetition in a very supportive environment. This method ideally includes an individual therapist, plus a group therapy for learning, discussing and practicing these skills. Distress tolerance, better awareness of relationships, and learning proportional responses to interpersonal situations are among the skills learned. With weekly individual and group therapies, in two to five years many people have outgrown the diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. They may still have some traits, but have developed the ability to look at their own behavior and change their own behavior to have more successful relationships. DBT is one form of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Other approaches that various therapists use tend to be forms of CBT, with homework and specific self-help skills to learn: cognitive(changing the types of things that they tell themselves) and behavioral(practicing changing little behaviors step by step). Also important in any method of therapy with people with traits of BPD is having a therapist who can ride out the emotional storms of a BPD client’s anger, helping the client become self-aware and use new skills when they are upset like this, rather than getting angry back at the client or rejecting the client. Likewise, it’s important that any therapist with clients with BPD is good at setting limits and guiding the client by gently suggesting behavior change, rather than just providing support for the person as they are (which just reinforces their bad behavior). The implications for this with borderline HCPs in families, the workplace and legal disputes, is that the person may have the potential for change if they can be convinced of the need for ongoing counseling, such as DBT or other cognitive-behavioral skill-training types of therapy. Families can coerce their loved one to get this help by threatening to withdraw their support, as in an alcohol or drug intervention. Employers can threaten termination of employment if the person does not get some kind of help to change their behavior. Judges can order individuals with these disorders to go into treatment to stop certain behaviors, such as domestic violence treatment programs, drug or alcohol treatment programs, or other programs, as a motivation to change or else legal consequences will be imposed. There is hope for change for borderline HCPs if the person will stick with the program. The big question for borderline HCPs (and any HCPs) is whether they can take responsibility for their part in problems, rather than just blaming others.   Narcissistic HCPs HCPs with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), or just traits but not the full disorder, generally have these characteristics: a drive to be seen as superior; to put others down to put themselves up demanding that others admire them and wanting them to be jealous of them a lack of empathy for

Collaborative Practice and BIFF Responses®

© 2013 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. Last weekend, I participated in the annual CP-Cal conference: Collaborative Practice – California. There were about 160 attendees, with numerous workshops and a few plenary sessions. It’s amazing to see how Collaborative has grown in California in just 8 years! It was fun to see friends and to hang out with two of my favorite colleagues from San Diego, Shawn Weber (who is now on the Board of CP-Cal) and Julie Mack, both lawyers who have been involved in court cases and mediation cases of mine. Several of the sessions talked about the brain and how litigation tends to bring out the worst in us, and how staying calm, speaking slower and having a friendly smile on your face can entice the brains of others to become more flexible and collaborative in their thinking. Friday evening, the speaker, Doug Noll, pointed out research which shows that lawyers who turn down final offers in civil mediation (mostly about money settlements) did worse in their court outcomes in about 50% of cases. This is dramatic evidence that people should try twice as hard to settle their cases, and that many clients – and/or their lawyers – are over-confident half the time about their likelihood of success by having their “day in court.” (I have always thought of Family Court as the emergency room for legal disputes – and I’ve never heard anyone say: “I want my day in the Emergency Room.”) Of course, Collaborative Practice (they no longer call it Collaborative Divorce, because it is being applied in other settings now) tends to be comparable to average litigation cost-wise in many cases, because of the whole team of 2 attorneys, 1 or 2 mental health coaches, a child specialist and a financial specialist. Yet the level of satisfaction by clients is much higher than in litigation, where one generally loses, if not both! And the children are far better off when decisions are made by parents thoroughly working on their parenting plans by agreement, than to have a judge make their family decisions. When I became a lawyer 20 years ago, I remember a researcher telling family lawyers that if parents reached their own agreements for parenting plans – even with professional help – they followed them over 80% of the time, and if the judge made their parenting decisions, they followed the judge’s plan a little over 40% of the time. Of course, the Collaborative team approach helped inspire our New Ways for Families® method, which teaches skills using 3 counselors with a Parent Workbook for six sessions, which is then reinforced by lawyers and/or mediators in decision-making. As I reported in my previous blog, this approach is having a lot of success in Alberta, Canada, in two family court jurisdictions. New Ways is an especially effective method for managing high conflict cases, whether there is one high conflict parent (often with a personality problem such as borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, or antisocial, paranoid, or histrionic personality disorders) or both parents. This “collaborative” skills-building method helps bring out the best in parents, which really helps protect their children from unnecessary conflict and litigation. One of the key skills in New Ways is BIFF Responses. I gave a 90 minute session training Collaborative professionals (lawyers, mental health professionals and financial professionals) for coaching clients with this method. As some said, it’s harder than it looks – but gets easier with practice. We have been teaching this method through our seminars for High Conflict Institute for over six years, and the feedback from parents, legal professionals, workplace professionals and employees is that this is a really helpful technique for written responses to hostile communications, such as emails, Facebook  postings, etc. I am hopeful that Collaborative Practitioners will start having their coaches and child specialists teach the New Ways for Families’ skills at the beginning of their collaborative cases. We have adapted a “Collaborative Parent Workbook” for this purpose and look forward to providing our 1-2 days trainings to collaborative practice groups that are interested in such a skills-building approach for their clients. I believe it will help clients be more efficient, more effective, more satisfied – and more likely to keep working together in collaborative and other methods, such as mediation, rather than going to court. 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.

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 Behavior 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.