High Conflict Personalities: What You Need To Know

Do you find yourself constantly clashing with your partner, with conflicts only escalating instead of resolving in a healthy and peaceful manner? Have you tried different approaches of communicating while attempting to defuse the situation? Is it starting to seem that no matter what you do, say, or not say, it always goes the same? Conflict, anger, blame.

Perhaps there’s actually little you can do in these situations because it may have nothing to do with your actions, words, or behavior. Dealing with high conflict people can be really difficult and exhausting, especially if you’re giving it your all to make it work. 

Perhaps it is time to reach out to a relationship coach experienced in romantic relationships and try  building skills in couples’ workshops where you can address the underlying issues. However, learning what a high conflict personality is and if there are certain ways of successfully dealing with such individuals may help understand your partner or even yourself better. 

What Is A High Conflict Person?

What Causes High Conflict Personality

A high conflict person is an individual who has a pattern of conflict behavior that increases conflict instead of resolving it or reducing it. We find that most individuals who are referred to as high conflict are typically complex – and not that complicated.  Often, in conflict situations, couples are fighting the wrong fight.  They are defending against old wounds of trauma and drama that have not been recognized and/or processed. 

This type of behavior makes it really tough for people in a relationship to deal with a high conflict partner. It can be difficult communicating and some people find it nearly impossible to resolve conflicts with their partners who keep the cycle going.

The Behavioral Pattern of High Conflict People

High conflict personality can involve a pattern of behavior that has four underlying principles. There principles are typically the following:

  • Inability to manage emotions: High conflict people can react with intense disrespect, anger, fear, or even yelling when other individuals call their opinions into question. 
  • All-or-nothing thinking: HCPs identify potential conflict resolution with a single outcome and without taking the time to analyze the issue and listen to different points of view. 
  • Blaming others: High conflict people tend to blame others with a very high intensity while failing to notice faults in their own behavior. 
  • Extreme behavior: A high conflict person can often engage in extreme behaviors, whether in person or in writing. This behavior can consist of physical aggression in the form of shoving and even hitting, to psychological aggression in the form of spreading lies and rumors. 

The Types of High Conflict Personalities

Many high conflict people share the above mentioned behavioral patterns. However, there are five different types of high conflict personalities. These types can be identified based on the similarities between their explicit manner of interacting with other people. The five types of HCP are:

  • Antisocial: Antisocial high conflict people can be deceptive and charming while attempting to manipulate things toward their desired outcome. However, they can also be cruel and blame others to extremes in case they do not get what they want. 
  • Narcissistic: Narcissistic HCPs most commonly focus on their targets of blame. They keep putting their targets down, frequently in public. This is their way of proving they are superior, and they can resort to using insults with their partners. 
  • Borderline: These types of high conflict individuals often cling to their close personal relationships and quickly turn their partners into targets of blame in case of misperceived abandonment. They can be characterized with severe mood swings and sometimes dangerous physical and emotional behavior. 
  • Paranoid: People who have paranoid high conflict personalities can be extremely suspicious of people around them. They can carry a grudge for a long time while punishing their targets of blame. 
  • Histrionic: This type of HCP is most frequently associated with emotional manipulation and big emotional outbursts and drama. They can feel unjustly hurt by other people, which makes them attack their targets of blame without any apparent need. 

What Causes High Conflict Personality?

Unfortunately, it is not possible to determine what exactly causes individuals to develop a high conflict personality. There has been theoretical research that linked HCP to different variations of early-life neglect or abuse.

Same research theoretically excludes the potential of high conflict personality appearing due to any psychological or genetic conditions. It also attributes some role of temperament in the development of HCP. 

Also, there are indications that events that carry great emotional stress, such as divorces and relationship difficulties, can trigger HCP. However, all this remains at a semi-speculative and scientifically unproven level. 

What is important to note is that in partnerships, there needs to be a way that the couple can agree to resolve conflict based on their individual background and needs.  This is where relationship coaching can be a huge help. 

How Can You Tell If Someone Is A High Conflict Person?

So, how do you know if your partner might be high conflict? One of the methods of trying to identify a high conflict person is by implementing the WEB method. This method focuses on paying attention to the words people say, identifying your emotions when communicating with them, and taking into consideration their behavior. 

  • Words: High conflict people may have the habit of speaking in extremes and perceiving people as either completely good or horribly bad. Also, they can blame others for their problems and failings while being unable to reflect on their own part in these situations. 
  • Emotions: It is also necessary to identify your own emotions when speaking to a person who is potentially high conflict. Do you notice feeling defensive or uncomfortable while speaking with them? How about angry? Since emotions can transfer, you can find yourself experiencing anger toward somebody else after speaking with a high conflict person. 
  • Behavior: Finally, how does your partner behave? Do they constantly find excuses for extreme behavior? Pay attention if they exhibit some of the behaviors that causes conflict for no apparent reason. 

Of course, if you notice that a person acts like this around you, ask yourself – is this their usual behavior? Sometimes your partner may have a bad day or experience an emotionally draining event. However, if you’re in a relationship with a partner who is constantly exhibiting similar behaviors, then, what if it’s not just a bad day? 

How Do You Deal With A High Conflict Person?

Being in a relationship with a high conflict person can be very difficult. You may come to a point where you’re unable to say or do anything without expecting an exaggerated reaction from them. 

However, is there a way to resolve conflicts in such relationships in a healthy, constructive way? There are some things you can try doing when attempting to peacefully resolve a conflict with your HC partner:

  • Try to remain calm and not engage in any emotional confrontations with your partner. Reacting emotionally will make your partner probably do the same.The calmer you are, the more likely your partner will calm down as well. 
  • High conflict people often blame others, so you try not to apologize while remaining respectful and calm. Your high conflict partner could take the “admission of guilt” as the necessary sign to reaffirm their opinion of you being at fault without assuaging their anger. 
  • Being as brief as possible during your arguments with your high conflict partner may help. HCPs have the tendency to cling to words, and choosing your words and speaking briefly could help get your point across better.
  • Try to understand your partner’s personality and stop blaming yourself for the potential faults in the relationship. 
  • Finally, if you notice that you are not making progress in reaching your partner and communicating your opinions and feelings, reach out to a relationship coach who can help you resolve your difficulties. 

Tired Of Constant Conflicts? Join PIVOT & Try Healthy Relationship Workshop Activities 

How Can You Tell If Someone Is A High Conflict Person

Experiencing conflict in a relationship can cause you to become avoidant and to become afraid of openly speaking your mind with your partner, all in the hopes of staying as far away from potential conflict as possible. As difficult as it may be to actually face your partner and relationship problems, it might prove to be more helpful than sweeping your problems under the rug. Because they won’t just go away. 

However, sometimes even your best attempts at dealing with your partner’s high conflict personality seem to be fruitless. You may find yourself in a situation where it looks like there is nothing more you can do. Or may simply be too tired of constant conflicts and blame to even begin trying.

That is why we have founded PIVOT – to give you and your partner the help you need when you don’t see a way forward. Our relationship retreat workshops can help your partner and you learn how to function better, while your partner could learn how to deal with their high conflict personality at our individual coaching sessions. Our experienced advocates will help guide you through our process of resolving relationship problems. Reach out to us today and let’s start healing together. 

© 2021 Lori Jean Glass, LLC | PIVOT