A few years ago, I went to a wonderful seminar by Bill Eddy, who is the founder of the High Conflict Institute and author of many insightful books on how to deal with high conflict personalities (HCPs”).
What I love most about my work as a divorce lawyer is watching someone transform into a butterfly as they find freedom and learn to fly on their own with their new wings. Unfortunately, many will falter for a while because they are unable to disengage with their spouse, who may well be an HCP. And so it is no secret that the worst part of my job is dealing with these HCPs, which are defined as people with (often undiagnosed) personality disorders that cannot simply be cured by popping some happy pills.
Here are the 4 to watch out for, as I would describe them (remember I’m not a LCSW):
1. Narcissists- totally self absorbed, can’t empathize at all with others;
2. Borderlines- severe attachment issues;
3. Anti-socials- truly can’t distinguish between right and wrong; and
4. Histrionics- addicted to drama.
Honestly, I knew nothing about HCPs when I graduated law school, and it wasn’t until I started seeing some CRAZY behavior that I started researching more about psychology (which sadly is not a required course in law school.) Turns out, according to an NIH study about 20% of our population consists of HCPs, and I would like to proffer that in the DC Area we seem to have a much more concentrated level of them!
Over time, thanks to people like Bill Eddy, I learned to cope with the HCPS both in and out of court, not out of natural curiosity, but truly out of necessity. Studies sadly prove that an overwhelming number of our “high conflict cases” involve these HCPs, which means you can’t be a litigator and avoid these individuals. At least once the trial is over, I can close the file and walk away from the whole mess, but for those with kids now getting divorced from an HCP, this will be a life-long battle to create boundaries and disengage. Here are 10 key points I’d share with them:
1. Not every email/call/text requires a response.
2. You don’t have to respond to every accusation or insult.
3. No is a sufficient answer. You don’t always have to explain yourself.
4. Take deep breaths, go for a walk and clear your mind before engaging.
5. Someone has to rank in your life to expect an instant response.
6. It is ok to block someone that is harassing you, or limit their communications.
7. Do not allow them to drive you crazy– you alone are in control of your emotions.
8. Remind yourself that you are a good person, who is worthy of love.
9. Find hope through others that life is actually beautiful, despite dark moments; and
10. Believe in karma.
I cannot emphasize enough how key it is to preserve your inner peace, especially with HCPs. Don’t let them drag you down. Don’t let them destroy your spirit. And above all, don’t blame yourself for pairing up with such a jerk. Most of us marry when we are so young– and seriously how many of us study psychology or ask someone to undergo a psycho-analysis before walking down the aisle?
If you find yourself currently in the position of unraveling your marriage with an HCP, truly you have my utmost condolences. This is not going to be an easy process, which has a tendency to bring out the worst in these people. But the sooner you learn to disengage, the better. In the meantime, get some emotional support, read up on HCPs, and go build some new alliances both professionally and personally, to help you through this difficult journey.
By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.