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Co-parenting with a High Conflict Personality

Co-parenting is hard, especially if one or both parents have a high conflict personality disorder. Here are the 5 personality patterns that most commonly appear.
(3 min 46 sec read)

Lori Denman-Underhill
Lori Denman-Underhill uses the power of the press to raise awareness about endless causes.

High conflict co-parents: Why do people act this way? Why would someone act so extremely? If someone is a high conflict person (HCP), then he or she may have a personality disorder. If so, this means that they are stuck – that these characteristics are part of who they are.

I believe that about half of HCPs have a personality disorder and about half have some of these traits, but not a full personality disorder. This means that they are still difficult but may respond more easily to approaches designed for people with personality disorders.

It helps to understand some of these traits, but it is important not to tell someone you think they have a personality disorder. They may become very defensive and angry with you, as defensiveness is a common characteristic of those with personality disorders and those just with traits. The five personality patterns that most commonly appear in high conflict divorces are the following, in my opinion. You can see why they constantly get into conflicts with those closest to them:

Borderline HCPs:

They have extreme mood swings – friendly and loving one minute and angry and blaming the next. They are preoccupied with fears of abandonment. When they feel abandoned (even if they aren’t), they can become enraged, vindictive, and sometimes violent. They can be highly manipulative – mostly to avoid abandonment or to punish someone who they feel abandoned them. Sometimes, they make false statements and spread rumors. They often “split” people into all-good or all-bad in their eyes.

Narcissistic HCPs:

They can be very arrogant and preoccupied with themselves. They try hard to be seen as superior and very important. They seek constant admiration and praise and get angry when they don’t get it. They can be highly manipulative, and very disdainful and demeaning to those around them. When they feel insulted or disrespected (even if they aren’t), they can become enraged, vindictive and sometimes violent. They may make false statements and spread rumors to regain a sense of control when they feel powerless and inferior. They also engage in “splitting” those around them into superior and inferior people.

Paranoid HCPs:

They are very fearful and suspect that other people want to manipulate them or hurt them. Many often imagine that others are conspiring against them. They are mistrustful and expect that people close to them will betray them sooner or later. They will sometimes attack others first (verbally or physically), in order to prevent being attacked themselves.

Antisocial HCPs:

They can be the most dangerous and uncaring. They often enjoy other people’s suffering and like to dominate and be in control. They don’t care about the rules of society. Instead, they just want what they want and they will do anything to get it. They are chronic liars and lack remorse. They can be highly manipulative and often persuade others that they (the antisocial HCPs) are victims, when in fact they are perpetrators of bad behavior. They view people as powerful or as suckers, who deserve what they get. Violent revenge or causing other people suffering is often seen as justified in their eyes.

Histrionic HCPs:

They are generally over-dramatic and very intense. They constantly are talking about being a victim of this or that and can go on and on about dramatic details which may or may not be true. They are attention seekers and once they have your attention they don’t like to let go. They look to others to solve their problems. They are prone to lots of exaggeration – of facts and of emotions.

I believe that half of HCPs don’t have these disorders but just some traits of these disorders. What is important is to understand their possible patterns of behavior so you can deal with them, not deciding if they have a disorder – which you can’t do without extensive training.

It’s also important not to think of these characteristics as defining a whole person. People with personality disorders or traits can be high functioning in society – such as in their work – while they are very difficult in close relationships. They can have a full range of intelligence, from very low to very high. So when someone is referred to as “a borderline” or “a narcissist,” it’s like calling someone a diabetic or a painter or a Californian – it’s just one aspect of the person.

Excerpt from Don’t Alienate the Kids! Raising Resilient Children While Avoiding High-Conflict Divorce. By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. Published by HCI Press

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