Does every interaction with your spouse or former spouse seem to be a conflict? Conflicts are a normal part of getting divorced. But some people would rather be a big part of the problem than a small part of the solution.
How Can I Ever Get Past Ugly with a High Conflict Personality?
If your spouse or ex-spouse has issues with conflict that extend out beyond just the divorce conflict, you might be dealing with a personality disorder. There is a difference between conflict that is normal and relates to the divorce, and someone who has a high conflict personality. You have to have different strategies for dealing with each type of person.
How Can I Tell if Someone is a High Conflict Personality?
The high conflict personality has a psychological thinking disorder. Someone with a personal disorder has the following characteristics:
- An enduring pattern of behavior
- The pattern exists from early adulthood
- The pattern is rigid and unchanging
- It leads to significant distress or impairment
- It exists well outside the person’s cultural norms
What are the Enduring Behavior Patterns of a High Conflict Personality?
- Chronic feelings of internal distress
- Believes that the cause is external
- Behaves inappropriately to relieve the distress
- The distress continues unrelieved
- Receives negative feedback about behavior, which escalates internal distress.
- But thinks that something or someone besides themselves is the cause.
- Lacks insight to recognize own behavior.
The High Conflict Personality & the Legal System
The legal system is very attractive to someone with a high conflict personality ~ particularly regarding custody and parenting time issues. The conflict gives emotional satisfaction, even though the person may claim that they don’t want the conflict.
Having the conflict and pursuing legal action validates the person’s self-worth. The person is convinced they must continue to take court action because they are “right.” In fact, the reason is because it validates their world view, validates their self-worth and the ex-spouse is forced to engage with them.
High conflict personalities may be very convincing to a judge, either in a negative or positive way. The judge sees someone who is very emotionally intense, and believes very strongly in what they are saying, and thinks that shows credibility. However, a judge may only have limited exposure to this person, and may not see the pattern that may take months or even years to develop.
Normal vs High Conflict Reactions to Appropriate Boundaries
Suppose appropriate boundaries have been set, such as a parenting schedule. Or there is an issue that comes up, and the person’s point of view is heard and considered. But ultimately another decision is made. A person who is in a conflict, but is not a high conflict personality, may be disappointed in the result, but will usually accept the result, adapt and go forward.
For someone with a high conflict personality, court orders or decisions don’t just set boundaries. It attacks their sense of self-worth. In order to protect themselves emotionally, they continue to fight the battle. Continue to file motion after motion or create conflict after conflict in order to get you to engage in the fight with them.
What Can Happen to Me When I Oppose a High Conflict Personality?
As the person on the other side of an individual with a high conflict personality disorder, being on the defensive can often make you look like you are part of the problem, rather than being the target of someone with a personality disorder. Worse, how you react to that person can further trigger their defensive mechanisms, and provoke further attack.
If you are dealing with a spouse or ex-spouse who has issues with conflict that extend out beyond just the divorce conflict, you need to carefully consider each step along the way. The way you react to that person has to clearly set boundaries and avoid unnecessarily triggering their defense mechanism.
You can’t change the other person’s personality. All you can do is manage the conflict and minimize its damage on you and on your children. And there are ways to manage the conflict.