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

Living with High-Conflict People: Do’s and Don’ts for Living with a Borderline High Conflict Person

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© 2014 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.   You can learn to coexist with a person with a Borderline High Conflict Personality by following these and other tips.   DO YOU FEEL TRAPPED BY THIS PERSON? Intense anger Sudden mood swings Emotionally manipulative Seeks revenge/vindication Impulsive, self-destructive Clingy, needy   The NIH estimated 5.9% of the population has a Borderline Personality Disorder.* Living next door to a person with BPD can make you want to move. Keep reading for tips about what you can do to manage it.   WHY DO BORDERLINES SEEM SO IRRATIONAL? Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is one of the most common High-Conflict Personalities. You may recognize the pattern: someone adores you and bakes you cookies one minute, then rages against you for declining because you’re on a diet, then forgets they were angry the second you pay a compliment to their coffee-making skill or give in and eat a cookie. It’s exhausting!  Research indicates this seemingly bizarre behavior may stem from biological and misguided social learning factors and/or some form of abuse or neglect in childhood that left them feeling abandoned by someone of importance. ** Whatever the cause, they may live their entire life feeling traumatized by everyday events that trigger the unresolved emotional fallout and an ongoing fear of being abandoned. The article Borderline Disorder from the Inside offers insight into the disorder but for now just keep in mind that it’s unconscious behavior. If you are not able or willing to distance yourself from the Borderline, you can learn how to manage it.   WATCH OUT FOR THE BORDERLINE BLAST A borderline’s self-defeating actions tend to drive people away – to actually abandon the Borderline – but they don’t see that cause and effect. For most, they feel as if their actions are necessary to defend themselves from that unconscious fear (you will often hear them justifying what they did/said). For example: John was buying a property and planning to fix it up for sale.  John spotted his realtor- neighbor, Frank, in the yard and went over to chat. FRANK: Morning, John. How are you? JOHN: Not so hot. I can’t find time to deal with the other house. I want to make it look as good as your house does then sell it for a big profit like you did. Can you look at it and give me your opinion? I need your help. FRANK: Um, OK. I’ll try to get over there later today. The next day: FRANK: I went over to the house and I’m curious what your plan is. JOHN: I need to flip it for a fat profit like you do. I have to rip up the kitchen and replace the plumbing. Bunch of other stuff too, like the roof, but I’m having trouble with the contractor and he charges me for every little thing. FRANK: Sounds expensive. I think the house is in OK condition. My professional opinion would be to only do some minor repairs and then sell it as a fixer-upper. JOHN: What are you talking about? As a realtor, you should know what needs to be done! That contractor you recommended says I need to do it so I can make a lot of money. FRANK: Well, you asked for my opinion, and for several reasons I don’t think you’re going to get enough profit after doing all those things to make it worthwhile. You seem stressed, and it would be easier for you this way, too. JOHN: You think I’m stupid? Why did you tell me to use your contractor, then? I see what’s going on. He’s giving you kickbacks, isn’t he? Giving you my money for all that crap he charges me for. I don’t need advice from you. I’m going to report you to your boss right now! Frank watched as John stormed off.   Where did THAT come from?   What he didn’t realize was that someone with a Borderline Personality Disorder will develop huge expectations from a relationship, and then react as above when those expectations are not met.  In John’s world, Frank was the expert who would reinforce his idea of making quick cash and would help him do it.  He unconsciously felt abandoned when Frank’s advice was contrary to his (ill-conceived) plan, so he blasted Frank for letting him down.   DON’T BEND BOUNDARIES WITH BORDERLINES Since he lives next door, ignoring John altogether may not be an option. It might also make things worse because it would be an actual abandonment of the relationship which could drive John to further impulsive behavior.  Avoiding the typical love-you-hate-you nature of a Borderline is not easy, but these tips will help you control it: 1.   Resist being put on a pedestal.  Borderlines often build you up in their eyes to feel a greater sense of security in the relationship.  If you sense someone is idealizing you, proceed with caution because you will eventually be attacked for falling off your pedestal.  If you present yourself as an average person, you’ll have less distance to fall. Frank was vaguely uncomfortable with John’s initial praise about his house and achievements (a sign you may be dealing with a Borderline). Frank could have simply said, “I was lucky with a house sale once” to tone down the accolades a little. 2.   Create clear expectations of your relationship.  Borderlines develop extreme expectations of a relationship and repeatedly ask for validation or favors to feel secure in your commitment to them. This inevitably becomes frustrating but if you start backing off, the Borderline will react harshly because you abandoned them. You can nip this situation in the bud by setting boundaries in the beginning. Frank’s best course would have been to politely decline helping, perhaps with a non-personal policy reason such as “My firm does not allow us to be involved in real estate matters outside of work.” He should not have given any contractor referrals either, because when that other relationship did not meet John’s