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I don’t understand Facebook’s algorithms—you know, those little subroutines that determine which posts (and which ads) are displayed for you and me at any given moment. But every once in a while, I must admit, they bring me interesting things that I probably would never have seen or learned about otherwise.
In this particular case, I was presented with a short video in which someone was describing a certain cluster of personality traits known as “high conflict personality.” Folks who exhibit this syndrome (or disorder or whatever) have a very hard time relating to others, and they are very hard to be around. They are characterized by four main traits: a preoccupation with blaming others, all-or-nothing thinking, unmanaged emotions and extreme behaviors. They are convinced that their thinking is “100% right, 100% of the time,” and therefore never seek, much less accept, advice or suggestions.
Sound like anyone you know? Sound like any cultural mindsets you can think of? Any governments… or presidents?
But here’s the thing:
If someone has this condition, no one can tell them that they have it.
They simply don’t—can’t—won’t—hear it. They can’t even conceive of the possibility that the cause of their problems might be something amiss with themselves. In particular, they are quite convinced that they have no need to change, and certainly no need whatsoever of any therapy or treatment. If you try to be helpful and point it out, you become their next target instead—the next convenient person to blame.
They might even say you’re fake news.
What causes this problem? There are many possibilities. It might be the result of a lack of emotional attachment or feeling of safety in early childhood. It might be the result of extreme trauma: a near-fatal car wreck, say, or a devastating terrorist attack. Bill Eddy of the High Conflict Institute (the guy in that video I saw) pegs the condition on a failure to transition out of the “anger” phase of the grieving process. “It really seems that they can’t handle the depression stage [of grieving],” he writes, “with its full-blown sadness and sense of vulnerability. They seem psychologically defended against having those feelings by staying angry and preoccupied with others—sometimes holding on to them through extended conflicts.” (See https://bit.ly/2LdHFPv.)
Can they be helped? Sure—if they realize for themselves that they need help. But what should the rest of us do in the meantime, who have to interact with them? Eddy has some interesting suggestions about handling high-conflict people (or cultures), which I will just list briefly here for you to contemplate...
Don’t criticize them: frequently, it only feeds into their mindset and makes the situation worse.
Don’t try to persuade them logically: their emotional pain has to be addressed first.
But don’t try to “open up” their feelings: allowing them to “vent” doesn’t help either. Rather, they need to learn how to manage their emotions.
Do give them your empathy, attention, and respect: this is a challenge, no question about it, but the best contradiction to this mindset is for them to “experience relationships in which they are treated with empathy, attention and respect” (“EAR”).
But do set limits and educate about consequences: “empathy, attention, and respect” does not mean putting up with abuse or ignoring unacceptable behavior. “Instead of logical persuasion about past behavior,” says Eddy, “educate them about their choices and consequences regarding future behavior.”
Next month, we’ll go a little deeper yet…