In the past there was more focus put on individual personality disorders that can be a source of  high conflict.  Now, there are references to what is known or described as a “high conflict personality” (HCP). HCP, given its overlap with the antisocial, borderline, and histrionic personality disorders, may be more of a descriptive term than a diagnosis unto itself. Notice as per the DSM-5 and the removal of the separate diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder that there seems to be a melding of traits and symptoms being blended so that, in fact, psychiatrists, and more specifically, biospsychiatrists, can find more people to fit their diagnostic criteria and the more people they diagnose these days, the more psychiatric drugs they prescribe which many believe, against the Big Pharma funding, flow, and influence on mental illness, is very harmful and not helpful for people.

highconflictI continue to wonder why something like an individual’s experience of high conflict or being experienced by others as a high conflict person is pathologized like so much else in the “profession” of psychiatry. I say this not to disagree with the presence and reality of high conflict people but to make the point that no one, at least in psychiatry, (or very few) take the time to put human context to the reality of this high conflict personality style or way of trying to cope with stress and relating in our hectic world.

People diagnosed with and meeting the criteria for Cluster B Personality Disorder diagnoses, Borderline Personality Disorder, Anti-social Personality Disorder, Histrionic Personality Disorder and well, just because they removed the way Narcissistic Personality Disorder was defined and diagnosed doesn’t mean it still doesn’t exist in those that were previously diagnosed or in others who show all the signs for what psychiatry now wants to put into different words – do often have high conflict personality styles. I think it is important to make the distinction between “high conflict personality” (HCP) and a high conflict personality style. Why? Because one labels and stigmatizes – HCP. The other, a  what I refer to as a High Conflict personality style focuses more on the human context and reasons for the high conflict in a non-pathologizing way that seeks to separate out the person from the high conflict. The high conflict is not in the personality of a person – as in absolutely in-grained and just there. No, it is about how a person relates, or more specifically relates. It has its roots in insecure attachment in childhood. Therefore it is not a natural state of being or an in-grained personality as such but rather a person out of balance who may not as of yet acquired enough insight, awareness, and skills to cope more effectively with what they find stressful based upon unmet needs in early childhood development which are quite impactful to adult relating until and unless they are addressed.

High conflict relational styles can be changed. Therefore, if someone is relating in a patterned high conflict way, now, and/or has for years, that does not mean they cannot learn more about it and learn to change the style from within which they relate to self or an unstable sense of a self now well known and how they relate to others. Most high conflict arises from triggered stressors that dysregulate emotions. Learning to be aware of those triggers and stressor and learning coping skills to regulate emotions can take someone from high conflict relating to relating in much healthier non-conflictual ways.

Too much stigma and stereotyping is sweeping the web and the “profession” of psychiatry now with these buzz words of High Conflict Personality. Each person is entitled to his or her own thoughts and feelings be they within the middle-ground or more black and white and extreme. The important thing to recognize in this discussion of HCP is that the high conflict is often a learned behaviour that needs intervention and Coaching and/or therapy to intervene in that learned behaviour so people who are relating in high conflict ways can learn how to find that middle-ground place and way of relating with more of a cooperative base than a distrustful base of communication.

High conflict in one individual in relation to relating to someone else is not always just about that one person. Others naturally tend to have reactions to people presenting high conflict. High conflict is a pattern of relating that develops when things do not go well for a young child. As a person gets older, their experience is coloured by their past and this creates a stock-piling growing tendency to relate in more dramatic or high conflict ways.

If you or someone you know is presenting high conflict, dramatic and/or chaotic in relation to you, it is important to firstly not over-react, and to secondly try to understand the context of why the person is experiencing heightened emotion – even heightened or dysregulated emotion that is not appropriate within the context of a given interaction or relational dynamic. It is equally important that the person presenting high conflict, dramatic and/or chaotic relational dynamics become more aware of this and seek help such as I provide to learn more about why they have the reactions that they do and why they feel such strong need to protect.

We need to stop taking all human behaviour that is difficult or at times puzzling and pathologizing it. Instead we need to look at the human context of the pain and suffering that is behind the presentation of high conflict. Also we need to realize that sometimes, even those who people want to so easily and often label as “high conflict personalities” are reacting to actual or perceived invalidation, abandonment, slights, and so forth which are not always incorrect.

© A.J. Mahari, February 27, 2013 – All rights reserved.

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