How can we, as coParents, respond to hostile parents?

We need to shift our thinking from shame and blame – which just reinforces the problem and doesn’t build stronger connections – to teaching skills. We need to understand that the logic of their behavior is fear-based rather than evil – but still needing restraint. They are stuck in a Cycle of Hostile or High-Conflict thinking.

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There are three continuous steps that occur in the cycle of high-conflict thinking:

1. M.A.D: Mistaken Assessment of Danger

2. B.A.D.: Behavior that’s Aggressively Defensive

3. N.F.: Negative Feedback

This cycle shows that they are constantly having a Mistaken Assessment of Danger. Because of this M.A.D., they think (or just react) that they must take extremely aggressive action to protect themselves – and their children. As high-conflict people, they believe that the source of all of this danger is their Target of Blame (usually the other parent, but potentially lawyers, counselors, or others). Therefore, their Behavior that’s Aggressively Defensive is directed at their Target of Blame, to somehow cause the Target to change their behavior or disappear as the solution to the problem.

However, because the problem isn’t really their Target of Blame, but rather their Mistaken Assessment of Danger, nothing changes after their aggressive attack. Instead, they get Negative Feedback (from the other parent, lawyers, counselors and/or the judge). This, in turn, they take personally, over-react to, and blame on their Target of Blame. This increases (or at least doesn’t reduce) their Mistaken Assessment of Danger, and the cycle continues and continues.

Thus, it’s important to realize that their extreme behavior is a defense against something, rather than just being stupid, crazy or evil. It’s actually seen as a solution in their distorted thinking. Remember, this has nothing to do with intelligence. So if you respond with extreme behavior of your own – in an effort to stop their extreme behavior – you will usually make things worse.


About Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq

Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, mediator and the President of High Conflict Institute. He developed the "High Conflict Personality" theory (HCP Theory) and has become an international expert on managing disputes involving high conflict personalities and personality disorders. He provides training on this subject to lawyers, judges, mediators, managers, human resource professionals, businesspersons, healthcare administrators, college administrators, homeowners’ association managers, ombudspersons, law enforcement, therapists and others. He has been a speaker and trainer in over 25 states, several provinces in Canada, Australia, France and Sweden.

As an attorney, Bill is a Certified Family Law Specialist in California and the Senior Family Mediator at the National Conflict Resolution Center in San Diego. Prior to becoming an attorney in 1992, he was a Licensed Clinical Social worker with twelve years’ experience providing therapy to children, adults, couples and families in psychiatric hospitals and outpatient clinics. He has taught Negotiation and Mediation at the University of San Diego School of Law for six years and he is on the part-time faculty of the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at the Pepperdine University School of Law and the National Judicial College.

He is the author of numerous articles and several books.

Areas of Expertise: Mediation, Family Law, Workplace, Judicial Officers, Court Systems, Governmental Entities, Mental Health Professionals, New Ways for Families.

To view his book, “BIFF: Quick Responses to High-Conflict People,” visit this link:

To view his book, “Don’t Alienate the Kids!” Visit this site: