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Recognizing High Conflict People

Updated on May 17, 2013

With Their Backs Against The Wall

Conflict seems to be at the center of some people's lives. Every challenge, every dispute and every argument becomes a fight to the death. They feel like their very existence is at stake.

These people are driven by deep, unacknowledged fears. Their whole lives are organized around these fears. This seems normal to them and believe that everyone else thinks the same way they do.

In this lens I will give the basic tools and resources to recognize, understand and deal with these high conflict people driven by fear.

Driven By Fear

High conflict people are driven by these four fears.

I want to start with a small disclaimer. I am not a therapist and I am unable and unwilling to diagnosis anyone, ever. Still, as a mediator helping to settle disputes I needed a better way to understand what was driving and escalating disputes that had at first seemed simple with clear paths to resolution.

If I was a therapist, I would turn to the DSM IV and discuss personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder, anti-social personality disorder, narcissist personality disorder and histrionic personality disorder. In fact, I have been helped a great deal by learning about these things.

In my practice and in my everyday life I needed a simpler and more situational approach. I had no time for a proper diagnosis. I needed a way through the next session. I was faced with a number of important questions. What is at the center of this dispute? Why is it continuing? and How can we deal with it?

What I found is that these people who drive and escalate disputes, in differing degrees, are driven by four basic fears.

The Fear of Being Ignored

Some people feel like they will simply disappear if they are not the center of attention. They won't matter anymore, but worse they won't even exist. For them this is not a metaphor or a figure of speech. It is really how they feel. It is a crisis of being and a matter of life and death. This drives their need for approval from others. It drives their constant need of attention.

So they divide themselves into "acceptable" and "unacceptable" parts. The parts people like and the parts they don't. In their desire to remain in the center of attention these people will make every effort to hide the flawed, unacceptable and imperfect parts of them.

The difficulty comes when these people are forced to confront, examine or deal with their "unacceptable parts". They don't like to do this because they feel like their very existence is being threatened.

The Fear of Being Belittled

The fear of being belittled, of being small, puts people in the place that they need to seem bigger and better than mere mortals. They have done more, done it better, done it with purer intentions than you. They need to be one up. They need to top you. They need to bring you down.

They are driven with the deep and compelling notion of being insufficient. That they don't or can't measure up. This is not the same as the common experience of feeling inferior that is often accompanied with poor self-esteem traits like constant apologies, avoidance, and low motivation.

In fact, these people may appear to be the very models of self-esteem and a portion of them may be very high achievers. But they find it impossible to acknowledge their flaws. To admit that they are wrong, responsible for a negative outcome, or are simply common and normal in their strengths and weaknesses is overwhelming to them.

The Fear of Being Abandoned

Being driven by the fear of being abandoned is like living life on a roller coaster. These people will be sweet, caring and attentive and in the next moment angry, wounded and even violent. Any little thing can signal to them that they are about to be left behind.

To be left behind, abandoned means, to them, that they will die. That is how it feels and they are desperate not to die. They will do anything to keep attached to you, even if it is a negative and destructive attachment like fighting. Letting go is out of the question.

Unfortunately, the very ways these people use to hold on to the relationship ensures that the other person will want to leave. So in the deepest and scariest part of their lives they have created a self-fulfilling prophesy. They have no other effective plan of action available to them because they are so drive by their fear.

The Fear of Being Dominated

The motto here may be something like, "I'm going to do to you, before you can do to me." The basic plan for those who fear being dominated is to dominate first. For them life is the survival of the fittest and there are no other rules. Nothing that works for them is out of bounds. And of course, they think that you are using the same approach. If you aren't using the "no holds bared" approach, they see you as hopelessly weak and foolish.

These people are not seeking a relationship from you, but see you as an object. You are something to use to get what they want. They are not capable of empathy and in the end you do not matter.

Since they fear being dominated they defend themselves by dominating you first. When it suits them they will lie, steal, cheat and physically assault to demonstrate their dominance. Other times they will be helpful, well mannered and charming. It depends upon what they want in the moment.

High conflict people are driven by deep, profound fears.

Bill Eddy on High Conflict Personalities - Bill Eddy is the leading authority on high conflict personalities in family law. If you are facing a divorce, child c

Patterns of Fear

Fear leaves it's own fingerprint. These are the patterns of behavior that will allow you to recognize high conflict people.

High conflict people regularly make particular types of choices. These are a few of the most identifiable trademarks. We will often find a person we know with an occasional lapse into these behaviors. That is to be expected from time to time. However, the more you see of these traits and the more often you see them, then the more likely you are dealing with a high conflict person.

When the "Issue" Isn't the Issue.

Bill Eddy makes it plain that when the dispute centers around an issue which is not central to the problem at hand you may well be dealing with a high conflict person. With high conflict people the dispute is not about the money, the children or whatever else you are fighting about. Fix this issue and the dispute will continue. The real issue is the internal emotional state of the high conflict person.

All or Nothing Thinking

This is a common distortion in our thinking and most people are prone to it from time to time. The high conflict person see the world in black and white terms and this plays out in a couple of ways.

First, high conflict people see the world in terms of winners and losers with nothing in between. Disputes are not readily settled and compromises worked out. For them, one person is right and the other is wrong, and by the way, it is really important that they are right.

Second, high conflict people see people as all good or all bad. In fact, it can get worse. A person who was once considered close, trusted, or a support, can later be completely demonized. No positive value remains. It becomes possible and acceptable for high conflict people to fabricate false claims against the once loved and trusted person.

Emotional Facts

Some high conflict people communicate in compelling and convincing terms that are persuasive to family members, managers, therapists, lawyers and judges. But when examined it is often found that the emotional content of the claims are more persuasive than true.


High conflict people blame others when there is a problem. The feeling that they might be partially responsible for the dispute is unacceptable. To preserve their "self" the high conflict person will blame the whole problem on someone else. Unfortunately this target is usually someone close like a spouse or other family member, pastor or manager at work.

Unable or Unwilling to Take Responsibility

High conflict people are often unable to take responsibility for even a small part of the dispute. To do so would activate their deepest fears and threaten their existence as they understand it.

Responding to Fear

Seeing their fear allows us to respond appropriately. We can act wisely on our own behalf while acting with compassion in our interactions with them. High conflict people are in a great deal of distress most of the time. They find it difficult to bring a difficult moment to a conclusion. Their emotional response doesn't move to closure. This leads them to act in some very hurtful and difficult ways. It is all that they know and it seems like their only option. They fell trapped.

We need ways to deal with high conflict people that will protect us from their inclination to act out. We need ways to keep a difficult situation from escalating.

We also need a way of dealing with these difficult people with compassion. Often they are close to us, in our families and after all is said and done, we love them. We don't want to hurt them or exploit them.

There are many things that we can do to help resolve disputes with high conflict people. These are some of the most important.

Calming and Soothing

Big emotions are part of the reality with high conflict people. Learning how to calm and soothe them is essential. They cannot function well, nor move forward when they are highly emotional. Also in this state they are likely to view even the smallest challenge as significant.

First be sure that you don't challenge them directly. If you must you can explain how you are feeling, but at first they will not be able to hear it. It is also possible that their capacity for empathy is limited.

A better approach is to say something like, "You may be right." This seems counter intuitive at first, but it is important to learn to say this with an authentic conviction. This phrase, said authentically almost entirely eliminates push back. It will take the wind out of their rant. There will be no one to fight against.

But how can I say this authentically? Well, first, they may be right, or at least partially right. Even if someone is emotionally out of control, they may be reporting accurately. Unless you were there, you don't know exactly what happened. Even if you were there, you still don't know all that happened. This is just the fact of being limited finite humans. So no matter how bizarre, unlikely or incredible their claims may be, just say, "You may be right", because, in some way they just might be.

Another way to calm and soothe high conflict people is to ask them to, "Tell me more about that." This also deflates the push to fight. It gives them a chance to be heard. Being heard, by the way, cannot be underestimated in its importance to high conflict people. They need to be heard and most crave it. Few have ever been listened to in their lives and can hardly get enough.

In neither example have we agreed that they are correct in their claims or demands, only that we are willing and able to incorporate their perspective. With high conflict people this process can take a long time. Longer than with other people. One attorney I know expects to get 5 minutes of work done for every hour they meet with high conflict clients. That is the pace that these clients need, because they need to protect and manage their fears along the way.

Creating Boundaries

High conflict people expect to be treated differently than others. They will attempt to make greater demands on you and if you begin to make exceptions for them, they will ask for more. In the end they will turn on you because you have not and can not fulfill their deep needs. By maintaining an arm distance compassion, you will be able to be most helpful to the high conflict person.

Reality Testing

We can test reality with high conflict people indirectly. It is important not to challenge them directly. With direct challenges high conflict people will go on the attack, shut down or go underground. This will escalate the conflict.

Instead of a direct attack on the credibility or honesty of a high conflict person, try a more generalized statement. Try something like this, "Sometimes when people get really angry at some one else they really want to make that person pay for what they have done. Do you know what I mean? Unfortunately, this often will backfire. In their effort to hurt or bury the other person, some people will exaggerate or invent facts or details or other information to make their case. Often this hurts because credibility is so important now. Can you see how this might work?"

This is a long way of asking,"Are you telling me the truth?" It is so important to do it in this manner if you are looking for resolution to the conflict. Direct confrontation will not be very effective.

In reality testing for high conflict people we are looking for two types of problems. The first is simple, intentional deception. High conflict people lie and they depend upon this to get what they need.

The second issue is cognitive distortion. High conflict people are engulfed in emotional reasoning, all or nothing thinking, personalization, exaggeration and minimizing. All of these confuse the situation and increase the conflict. The best option is to move slowly and to maintain a healthly skepticism.

With these approaches in hand it will be possible to slowly, step by step, move into problem solving. Remember these are deeply wounded and highly complex people. They are difficult and do create a lot of conflict in their wake. Still, they need to be treated with compassion and respect. They need to be approached in a way that eases their pain and fear while holding them accountable for their actions.

High Conflict People in Church

Try this link if you have high conflict people in your church.

If you have a story of a high conflict person in your life, drop us a line.

High Conflict People in Your Life?

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    • williamslaw profile image

      williamslaw 3 years ago

      This is a wonderful lens. I hope many people benefit from reading it.

    • JamesThomasCalho profile image

      JamesThomasCalho 4 years ago

      @anonymous: It is possible but it won't be easy. Patterns of conflict can be difficult to break and will require commitment from both of you. But it can be worth it.

      The secret is to focus on your own actions and reactions in the relationship. Learning to accept the limitations of your partner while continuing to set appropriate limits on how you are willing to be treated s essential. Finally, you need to learn how to do all of this with calm, patience and goodwill even when things get difficult.

      In the end, you can never control another person. Our best strategy is to practice self-control and compassion. A lot of us are unwilling to go this way. Conflicts escalate and relationships fail.

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      I believe that I am married to one of these people. Is a good healthy relationship possible with this type of person?

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      My sister is a HCP and her adult kids and husband are her enablers ir supportive cast of characters if you will.She is a drama mama, makes mountains out of molehills and her husband and kids make phone calls send emails and pay visits on her behalf to people she villainizes. She has all yhese meadly percieved slights by my husband in particular because he is a very direct person. She of course is guarded and biggest fear is that people know about our family issues. She has successfully turned her kids against us by guilting them if they visit us or check their cell bill to see if we have talked. She has also campaigned against my husband and I with our parents. Its all very sad and I finally realized I want nothing to do with her. I don't want to spend anymore time walking on eggshells and feelling obligated to go along with her expectations to keep the peace. I used to think maybe I was a bad person for not letting it go because she is family. With family like that who needs enemies?

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      my Husband is a High conflict person every time we argue he talks bad about my Kids and How MUCH He Hates them and the argument had Nothing to do With the Kids He Blames me for everything because IfI wwould had Raise my Kids diffrenl then we wouldn't have any problems he keeps threat in me that he is going to Move if I don't kick my Son out he also has the adtitude That he shouldn't help Me with The Bills Because My Son don't help and he Shouldn It do any Thin around the house because my Son don't do anything he'll Come in The house with Muddy Shoes right after + had Just Mopped and when t Say some thin he would get very angry and say every on makes a mess here and t don't see you Say any thin But that not true So Now he doesnlt help he makes all the mess and I Just let it go. but recently he started with that he Can't See me watching tv. or be on My Phone wz he gets very angry and starts asking Me what have you done you need to be doing Something I work 50 hours a week what do you want from Me Now if am tired and Want to take a Nap I feel So awful

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      This article changed my life. Realized it was ME that was the person creating conflict!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      So this all seems one sided. What if I am one of these people? Where do I even begin to stopping this behavior? My boyfriend and I broke up, again, last night because I cannot accept responsibility. He says he always has to be the one to admit blame even when we've both contributed.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      For 3 months now my husband has been going crazy over my past. Before I was married to him I did some things in my past and I was totally honest with him about it. After we got married that's when it started bothering him. He hit me once because of his anger and has said a lot of mean things to me that i could not stand. Sometimes he will be fine and then another moment he will be mad at me and look at me with disgust.there nothing i can do to help him or anything i can suggest to help myself because i fear for our marriage and my safety, so one day he went out and never came back after 2 weeks he called, telling me that he is no longer coming back home that he wants to look for another lady to marry over where he is, after his call, i broke down in tear, i was heart broken, i was confused, i went into search for help and at the final stage of my search i came across a wonderful man that has helped many people to save there relationship so when i told him my problem, i was surprise that it took him only 3 days to solve my problem and after that 3 days my husband returned home to me and for the past one week we have been living like husband and wife covered with love, everything is in peace now

      Amy Krueger

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      @myraggededge: Me too and I'm not sure what to do about it. I escalate arguments from nothing and can't admit I'm wrong. Where do I start to try to make a change?

    • makarenko profile image

      makarenko 5 years ago

      thank you! <3 this made me realize how other people may see ME : I I have been through immensely traumatic childhood and I have very low tolerance for any kind of put-down or belligerent behavior etc. Still, there is value in that kind of background too, as I find I can understand deeper motivations and feelings of other people too - I am often told so. Too bad that when I am in the heat of the moment, I will not hold back and let the person know how I see their (bad behavior towards me or other vulnerable ones. Anyway, it was good to read this and note where I might self-correct... Blessings to you! <3

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      just want to share my experience and testimony here.. i was married for 6 years to my husband and all of a sudden, another woman came into the picture.. he started hailing me and he was abusive..but i still loved him with all my heart and wanted him at all costâ¦then he filed for whole life was turning apart and i didnât know what to do..he moved out of the house and abandoned the kids.. so someone told me about trying spiritual means to get my husband back and introduced me to a spell casterâ¦so i decided to try it reluctantly..although i didnât believe in all those things⦠then when he did the special prayers and spell, after 3days, my husband came back and was pleading..he had realized his mistakes..i just couldnât believe it.. anyway we are back together now and we are case anyone needs this man, his email address his spells is for a better life.

    • Keeah profile image

      Keeah 5 years ago

      I've recently had to cut off contact with a high conflict friend who I think (though I am not a psychologist) has Histrionic Personality Disorder (I DID read the DSM IV). She has a crappy understanding of the relationship between cause and effect of her own words and action and blames other result she doesn't want. She'll tell an inappropriate story to seek attention and then have a fit a short time later if an amused listener mentions it or jokes about it. She'll ignore any statement that she brought it on herself. I'd always assumed on some level she did understand that but I know now she does not. Your line about them lacking empathy is true. She had a screaming fit at me at a party for something that could have been covered with a CALM one sentence statement. When I told it was humiliating her exact reaction was to YELL "I DIDN'T MEAN TO HUMILIATE YOU" (SHE was offended??). Finding the histrionic definition made all energy drain out of my system. It made me realize I'd get a better result banging my head against a wall, unless she gets 1-2 years of therapy. But people like that maintain there is nothing wrong with them.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      Thank you thank you Dr Sango for the good work you just did in my life , my name is Priscilla i was married to my husband for two years and we were living together happily and we both love each other for this two year not until one bad evening when i came back from work late due to scares of transportation and he started queering and he said he does not trust me anymore and he can continue with this marriage anymore and he drove me away from his house unknowingly to him that i was carrying his two month old baby inside me i tried informing he but he won,t listen to me anymore i thought i will never get him back again and i loved him so much and i promise not to rest until am able to get him back to my life so i began to look for a solution and help to get him back this was because i do not want to give birth to a fatherless child so one afternoon as i was browsing on my computer i came across a testimony shared by miss Rachael from UK how she got his ex husband back with the help of Dr Sango of ( so i decided to give him a try and to my best surprise the spell this man cast on my husband work just within two days i contacted him . and today am happily living with my husband and a bouncing baby boy , with all this help rendered to me through this Dr Sango of ( )i will always thank him forever and testify his goodness in my life for other,s to hear an see , once again thank you Dr Sango for bringing back my family ,

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      @myraggededge: Hello: I think I am a HCP too, and motivated to fix it. What steps are you taking towards it? Maybe we can work together.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Do you know my husband? Surely you must as this is him! Everything but everything in this article describes the man I have been married to since 1989 (together since 1987). For many, many years I have said he has - what I in my ignorance - I described as 'demons'. I often called them fears but his reply would be that he's not scared of anyone or anything.

      Just as you say, everything is black and white for him - no grey areas allowed. Right or wrong and he is ALWAYS right. Totally incapable of ever accepting any responsibility. He will always attack if he feels in any doubt that he is going to be attacked so as soon as you even enter into a discussion that isn't going his way he will just kick off. I used to say, I don't understand how you go from 0 - 60 on the angry scale like that, how a simple conversation about - for example - a computer button - can turn into a full scale row, full of spite and insults. It is so tiresome and over the years, parituclarly with kids, you learn to spot the signs and back down, walk away, keep quiet. For an intelligent person to do that it is incredibily frustrating and unhealthy.

      2 years ago he totally changed. He had what I can only describe as a mid-life crisis but it went a little too far! He had an affair and and altered his way of life overnight, taking no notice of the kids, the house or me. Our marriage was far from perfect prior to that so in that sense it wasn't a great shock but what I discovered in my endeavouers to prove his affair was just how twisted he was. I figured out his Facebook passwored and the lies and fantasies that he created just to justifiy his behaviour were incredible. The amount of people he discussed our 'love life' with astounded me. He had totally and completely - as you say - demonised me and continues to do so even more now that I am divorcing him. Its incredible. I am so glad to have read your article because you have put a name to the problem that is my ex. Onwards and upwards!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      @anonymous: The advice is obvious. Get the hell out of the marriage. Easier said than done I know. Trust me I had my final straw last September when my HCP husband turned on my son. From May '11 when I told him the marriage was over but we could try to stay under the same roof for the kids and finances he just changed towards him. For the first weekend after our 'powpow' he seemed to behave, seemed like a changed man and I thought - you know, this could work - but then he went back to his usual ways. Difference is that I wasn't playing ball anymore. In my eyes, heart, soul, head and every grain of my body the marriage was dead and buried and I can be stubbourn there was no going back. I don't think he took it seriously but when he had his usual spat of flaring up and then ignoring me for weeks and I didn't bother to come wash his wounds so to speak, i don't think he new what to do and started to turn on the next best thing. We are still under the same roof and trawling through a very acrimonious divorce but I know we will break through in the end and this will all be a distant memory. Please don't live your life like this. We get one shot at it!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      @anonymous: I must say that this sounds like my life. I read stories like yours and think about myself. As I sit and ponder on it, I tend to always back down because I just can't explain always how things happen and just get out of control. I have lived with the "sermons" and the mental abuse. It always boils down to me being the problem. That I am too much of a strong willed person and that I should be the Queen of the King and his say is what always goes. The Queen was always beheaded if she went up against the King. He used to keep me up at night too... making his speech to try to make me see it his way. He would get right up in my face talking to me and threatening me and then when I would react and push him to get out of my face he would come back with "husband abuse". I have not been one to start stuff but I am not one to back down. Sometimes we could be having a nice conversation and then it would spin into something that I didn't understand how it started. I always told him that I wish we could be on a reality show just so our daily life could be recorded so someone could just tell me that it is not all me as he claims. He is funny and loving when he wants to be but he is so psycho every other time. Living with it for 21 years and almost leaving in 2009, I just can't seem to get a grip on how to manage him. My comments have consisted of "if I had only kept my mouth shut none of this would happen". But that is no way to live life. We have gotten pretty physical at certain times but I am a pretty strong person in that I refuse to be pushed around. When he has pushed me or put his hands on me, I have always fought back. Never fist fights... just pushing and threats. I wish you luck in your endeavor. I am now 48 yrs. old and sometimes wonder is this my life forever? He tells me he is so in love with me but I don't say it back. He always checks on me, my emails, FB, etc. any type of communication I may have with anybody he questions. I have no friends except him and our children.

      2 girls that I know that are recently divorced that want to get together at times and he doesn't like the idea of me being friends with them.

      I find myself isolated not knowing what my next move should be.

    • profile image

      philipcott 5 years ago


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      anonymous 5 years ago

      i woke up this morning with a thought that i had slept."GOING UNDERGROUND" THE first thing i did was to type this phrase and there i read with joy this article of yours.I am a catholic priest in india age55 and 28 years priest and ministry.For past 3 years I've had a hell .I had a drink problem and i reasoned "others drink more" well that's not the problem now but always wondered why do do everything in my life.I am a good speaker,a good mechanic,a fashion designer,i play the organ and the trumpet,i do catering for large and small groups,i do fabrication,i sing and compose and i believe nothing is impossible and am able to enjoy all thse and teach it to others.When all this is done i retreat from the scene and others wonder 'WHATS THIS' After i read this article i asked my self Am i wanting to see or felt important or being heard?Secondly i ask myself why am i not given any spcific responsibilities now even though i know to use my time well and am able .."shamlessly" to help out in any situation.I can apply spiritualistic attitude to myself and say god does not need it now, or that i am "all to all" or even say" if you can do it the i can"All this has fascinated me very much and happy in life yet i still want to make myself better....."am i right or am i right. Thanks for your beautiful article i feel i am unfolding myself.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      Unfortunately my wife fits this category like a glove, fears of abandonment and belittlement to a lesser degree in particular. She's been diagnosed as bipolar and exhibits symptoms of that on occasion but THIS stuff is what brings her life down and now mine as well. Maybe I'll look here and try one last-ditch attempt to save the marriage because things have gone too far. I'm one of those cool calm people who came from a low-conflict upbringing.

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      Dianeyp LM 5 years ago

      I can totally relate to the "fear of being ignored" when it comes to a family member, this makes total sense now. I am glad I found this lens!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I am so glad I found this. I have been dealing with one of these people online. There is no "personal" relationship with this person. We are just FB friends. He is a very talented photographer and seems quite knowledgeable on a number of mutual topics. However I began to recognize that he always seems to seek out things to argue about with me as well as others. He "unfriended" me twice in 2 weeks because I refused to engage in this behavior with him. It would seem with this particular person I am damned if I do and damned if I don't. Is this one of those cases where I should just walk away? There are not many people who have the same interests that we have.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      I never knew it until very recently, but I have been in a relationship/ marriage with a HCP man for 15 years (married 13) with 3 kids. My husband is classic HCP with a strong possibility of being BPD.. tough combo to live with. At my personal lowest point, I had an emotional affair with a friend. My husband found out and this led to 4 months of hell. My husband would interrogate me for 3-5 hrs a day; emotionally & psychologically abuse me with intermittent episodes of escalating physical abuse. Denying me sleep was also a favorite of his. He would threaten to make every day of my life miserable if I left him as well as turn my children against me... highly effective threats to a devoted mama. I took it and took it as my punishment for my infidelity. I kept thinking it would get better. One night was decidedly worse than the others. After he was done "roughing" me up (he refuses to acknowledge he "beat" me up), he said that he thought that we both needed that and that he certainly felt better. The next day, he made me call into work so we could "discuss" what happened. That was another 4 hours of me apologizing and listening to his sermon on how he would go there every time if I insisted on pushing him there. THAT was my straw. I filed a police report and got an order of protection. Smartest thing I ever did, followed by the dumbest... I took him back. I bought all the "let me fix what I have broken" speeches. The violence has not returned (except 1 head butt) and the tone is not as menacing but the conversations are the same... as is the blame. He has actually said that he is disappointed that I have not apologized for getting the order. We are back to the everyday I must walk on eggshells trying not to make him mad. I have tried to leave several times, which adds to the list of offences I have committed against him. I am constantly reassuring him that I love him and nothing I say is enough. It is exhausting... emotionally and physically. Am I right to think enough is enough? Am I right to believe that I have done all that I can? Am I right to think that this is not healthy for me or the kids and that it is time to walk away? Thoughts? Advice? Please and thank you!

    • JamesThomasCalho profile image

      JamesThomasCalho 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Hi Peter,

      I am sorry to hear this are so difficult. These situations are so painful and sometimes there seems like thre is no way forward.

      Let me start with a little encouragement. It is ironic, but people with high conflict traits seldom recognize their part in the conflict. You, on the other hand, quickly address the possibility that you may be high conflict too. that always makes me smile a little. In truth, you probably don't have a personality disorder simply because you, on your own, suggest that you might.

      On the other hand, by you description, your partner seems to be profoundly afraid of being abandoned. The behaviors you catalog are classic. You cannot cure her deep fear, but it is possible that you can learn how she is triggered and help make significant, positive changes in your relationship.

      I am deeply concerned about the escalation toward physical violence. It is just as unacceptable for men to be physically abused as it is for women. Unfortunately, there has been more than on man arrested for domestic violence because he was scratched or otherwise injured. I don't want that or you. I would recommend not living with her until that is addressed.

      If I can be of further help, please send me an email. Looking forward to hearing from you. Good luck and bet wishes,


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      anonymous 5 years ago

      Ive been in a high conflict relationship (Marriage) for a year and a half. Things have been disintegrating over the past 8 months and as the guy in the relationship, I've been stymied at every turn for finding a solution. My wife is likely HCP, but am worried that I may be as well. We've both had difficult/abusive upbringings, and our relationship has been a struggle from even before marriage (as our personality styles seem to be opposites: She's the gregarious extrovert; I'm the pensive introvert.) Any time we try to discuss the issues in our relationship; I get cut off from being allowed to speak, get sidelined by her blame and accusations, and feel like I'm in an interrogation room with bad cop, who won't let me get in a word edgewise unless it's exactly (even the wording) what she wants to hear. It's gotten to the point where she'll start shoving me, taking swings at me and clawing at me in total tantrum mode, that I have to leave the situation to try to let things cool-down. Then she'll get on the phone and start texting and trying to call me every minute or so for the next few hours, throwing any ammo she has about our past, or to threaten me that she'll quit her job, or tell our friends what kind of an abusive person I am, to try to get me to react and get back into an argument. I'm tired of being cornered and manipulated, and feel more depressed every day being powerless to even have a rational conversation about our relationship.

      I've moved out temporarily to try to stop the bleeding, as was agreed in one of our successful counselling sessions. But the temporary separation has brought about more angst and aggression, and I don't know how to defend myself from verbal and physical abuse, without staying away from her. Oh yeah, we also work together in the same office space daily. I don't know if I should quit my job and try to shut the door and start the healing process from this failed relationship, or if there's anyone out there who has come back from the other side in this kind of relationship. I don't know what to do; exhausted and exasperated.


    • JamesThomasCalho profile image

      JamesThomasCalho 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Thank you for visiting. I truly sympathize and can see how difficult it must be for you being married to a high conflict person.

      Based on your note I have some limited optimism for your situation. The person you described clearly has some significant high conflict traits. There is also a long history of acting in this way. This is concerning.

      On the other hand, I am glad that he limits his abusive behavior and is not physical with you or your children. And I am encouraged that he consistently expresses kindness and connectedness to you and the children at times. I am more encouraged that he expresses a willingness to get help. That is rather rare for a high conflict person.

      If he was my client and seeking help, I would suggest two approaches that need to be followed through. First, I would ask that he get a brain scan to see if there are issues that can be quickly identified. See the work of Dr. Daniel Amen to get an introduction to this type of assessment.

      Second, there are therapies that are helpful for high conflict people. Not all therapists are willing or effective. It is important to check them out first before spending time with them.

      Thanks again for your note. I hope he finds the help he needs. If I can be of further help please send me an email. ~Jim

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      I'm overwhelmed. I've been married to the HCP you describe, and two kids and 11 years later I'm struggling to find answers. And help. Bi-Polar & NPD have been suggested, but I never felt he those decriptions close enough, as does not struggle with depression or suicidal thought or tendencies. He is not concerned with social class or standing. He's usually quiet and hates to be in a group environment, and he loves me and his boys intensely. BUT, he is so impossible to deal with, blames me for every little thing that goes wrong, goes from loving to irrationally angry in a split second, has no remorse for the venom he spews while angry (because that's my fault anyway), is never never wrong about anything, twists and warps a situation so it's impossible to even try resolving conflict because the original issue becomes so out of focus - it's like you can't keep it on the table long enough to deal with it! He can be loving and sweet, and then cold, harsh and mean if you cross him (even if accidental). He feels like everyone owes him and he is justified in any action he decides to take because it's his way of getting back what's owed him.

      Sadly, though, the advice given to deal with him is to keep him at arm's length and not get too close. Clearly this is a problem for me being married to him. When he is "Dr Jekyl" he admits he has a problem and agrees he may be this HCP. He is willing to get help - if any exists. He admits he shuts down emotionally and is not in control when he gets mad. (He is not physically abusive at all). Is there any hope for change through therapy? Can one be a "recovering HCP?"

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      JamesThomasCalho 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Thank you Brigid for your very kind review. I love the moments when I am working with clients and they finally make the same discovery you have. These people are acting from their own prison of pain.

      Peace to you and I hope your encounters with high conflict people will be few.


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      anonymous 5 years ago

      This is an incredibly accurate portrait. Thank you for writing this - I now can understand the actions of a deeply wounded person full of fear and have changed my thoughts from hurt and complete mystification about their actions to one of compassion for the fear that is ruling their life. Thank you for your efforts XXX

    • JamesThomasCalho profile image

      JamesThomasCalho 5 years ago

      @WriterJanis2: Thank you. It means a lot.

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      WriterJanis2 5 years ago

      I really like the way you explained this.

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      JamesThomasCalho 5 years ago

      @MelanieMurphyMyer: Thanks. I'll look at your page soon.

    • JamesThomasCalho profile image

      JamesThomasCalho 5 years ago

      @anonymous: It can be difficult. But trying to correct them, to make them admit when they are wrong and to prove they are off base will lead to greater conflict.

      By recognizing they see the world lessen the likelihood that the immediate conflict will escalate and give us time to reframe the relationship. Sometimes the best option is to break off all dealing with that person. Sad, but true.

      Thank you for taking the time to read and especially to comment. Good luck.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      It's going to be tough to say "you might be right" to a person who already believes they are right about everything...and knowing it most likely will backfire on us. Especially because any communication with this person is twisted and turned into different information than was given!

    • MelanieMurphyMyer profile image

      MelanieMurphyMyer 5 years ago

      Excellent article. I really like the "You may be right" tip! (Hope I remember to try it next time I need it.) Have you read my page about tools for handling unjustified criticism and chaos? - The people you wrote about here are the kind I had in mind when writing it. :) I agree so much with your focus on compassion (both for the other person and for ourselves in the situation).

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      JamesThomasCalho 5 years ago

      @yakutpasif: Thanks for your comment. I'm an admirer of Yalom and I think you got the connection exactly right.

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      yakutpasif 5 years ago

      Reading this article, I came to think of the psychiatrist Yalom and his emphasis on how fear of death sculpture people's lives. The key is that passion rules over reason. On a personal note, I have a brother-in-law, who has some, if not all of the traits of a high-conflict-person. Double-standards with regards to certain social groups in society and a very nasty ability to be a natural born antagonist, especially when he's drunk. Since my sister has fallen in love with him, it makes me be skeptical of her ethics too.

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      ih8mycow 6 years ago

      Difficult people are best avoided but we all know that it would be impossible not to meet one in our lifetime. I've read a lot about them from this site called where some users have resorted to sending out anonymous hate mails via that site.

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      juniperberry lm 6 years ago

      thanks - very helpful

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      Psycho Free Zone 6 years ago from USA

      Good information.

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      You sure hit the nail on the head here, very well done and lots of food for thought!

    • JamesThomasCalho profile image

      JamesThomasCalho 6 years ago

      @darciefrench lm: Thanks for the kind words. Yes, often these are bullies. Since they are motivated by fears that we are not familiar worth, high conflict people can completely mystify us. We have no answer when we ask ourselves "why?" Understanding these motivations can help all of us better understand some of the bullies we encounter in life. Thanks again,


    • darciefrench lm profile image

      darciefrench lm 6 years ago

      Excellent article on high conflict people - yes, I've had to deal with plenty of these life sucking personalities in my life. Bad karma perhaps. Am featuring this lens on my new one on the Bully Victim - the personality that bullies and hides behind the victim stance.

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      photofk3 7 years ago

      I don't know such people in my life.

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      Moe Wood 7 years ago from Eastern Ontario

      I used to work with a woman who no amount of communication would work. Everything escalated from every angle. It got to the point that it brought the team down and finally upper management had to move in and reorganize. I remember hating her for a long time but then I realized we all have our own story and no one knows what another has been through. Still, I'm glad not to be working with her. One less stressor is always nice.

    • JamesThomasCalho profile image

      JamesThomasCalho 7 years ago

      @poptastic: Thank you for your kind words and for your blessing.

      So often we treat these high conflict people like they have the same motivations, needs and perspectives as we do and it creates more trouble for us all. Understanding their unique situation is the first step to being able to love them as they really are.

      Thanks again.

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      Cynthia Arre 7 years ago from Quezon City

      I can think of a couple of people I know whom I would consider "high conflict" and thanks to this lens I feel that I understand where they come from much better. ~Blessed~

    • JamesThomasCalho profile image

      JamesThomasCalho 7 years ago

      @RuthieDenise: Thanks for the note. True they need compassion, but it must be combined with boundaries. Love with limits. We don't need to sacrifice ourselves on the rocks of their misery if you know what I mean. Good luck.



    • RuthieDenise profile image

      RuthieDenise 7 years ago

      This is good information. It is very difficult to deal with these people. It is hard to feel compassion for them but that is what they need.

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      Lisa Auch 7 years ago from Scotland

      Really liked this imformative lens, learned a new approach too

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      myraggededge 7 years ago

      My goodness, I recognise some of those things in ME! Extremely fascinating and illuminating.

      Blessed by a Squid angel :-)

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      Allan R. Wallace 8 years ago from Wherever Human Rights Reign

      It;s natural to think of others that may need this. I'm going to spend some time considering if I do. Thanks

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      Medicinemanwriting1 8 years ago

      Great lens. Lots of interesting information here. Thanks for this.

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      whynotresorve 8 years ago

      Its apparent that a LENS is required for evaluations. That, in itself, is a conflict.

    • SandyMertens profile image

      Sandy Mertens 9 years ago from Frozen Tundra

      Well written lens. I have came upon many conflict people. Maybe they should read this.

    • dc64 lm profile image

      dc64 lm 9 years ago

      Very nicely done, and so well thought out. I'm going to have to favorite this lens. I've browsed through about 10 lenses today looking for one with real substance, and one that is interesting as well. I'm glad I've stumbled across yours. Awesome.

    • Risa28 profile image

      Risa28 9 years ago

      Nice lens. You have given me ideas to try with confrontational people. You have put into words techniques and approaches I value. Thanks for sharing. 5*s

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      anonymous 9 years ago

      What a thoughtful lens. Very insightful. Thanks for sharing your views. 5*'s

    • MargoPArrowsmith profile image

      MargoPArrowsmith 9 years ago

      interesting lens, 5*

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      rydigga 9 years ago

      Hi James, Interesting lens. Fear is the driving motivator in many people's lives, thanks for letting me understand it better.


    • RuthCoffee profile image

      Ruth Coffee 9 years ago from Zionsville, Indiana

      Great lens.I was in middle management for years and was seen primarily among my peers and subordinates as a great diplomat. However, toward the final years of my career it appeared to me that our newer managers (not necessarily younger) were people who thrived on conflict. We no longer just experienced conflict but it was like the focal point; they seemed to seek it out and be dissatisfied without it. They had no negotiating skill but insisted on total domination. (as long as they dominated completely things were tolerable) Work was a tough place to be most days, really should have studied more of this I guess.

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      Deb Bryan 9 years ago from Chico California

      This is such a dynamic and informative lens. I was 'driven by a hundred forms of fear' and am very grateful that I have discovered a new way to live. Thank you for taking the time to create this very well written lens and I hope that it will allow people to learn more about the reasons for conflict (within) that drives responses and perhaps continue to reduce the number of individuals who live in a high conflict mood.

      5*FAV and lensrolled to several of my lenses.

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      lil1 9 years ago

      Loved this lens. These people can be so difficult to deal with.

      Thanks for the info.

    • WhiteOak50 profile image

      WhiteOak50 9 years ago

      Thank you for joining BPD Group! This is a very good lens and I know it will be a great asset to the group! Blessings