High-Conflict Personalities in Divorce

High-Conflict Personalities in Divorce

There are four basic characteristics of HCPs:

  1. Preoccupation with blaming others
  2. All-or-nothing thinking
  3. Unmanaged emotions
  4. Extreme behaviors

Their behaviors are so habitual that the HCP is in denial of them. While these characteristics seem daunting, it’s not impossible to work with these people for favorable outcomes.

The four basic characteristics of HCPs result from their brain tendency to be locked into the right brain, where “defensive reacting” happens, or into the amygdala (the “reptilian brain”), where fight, or flight, or freeze happens. Logical problem solving happens in the left brain, and we can learn skills that will help these clients shift to that more productive resource.

One simple technique that I have found to be the most powerful when a HCP starts to display the common traits that can derail negotiations, a simple response can get everything back on track. Simply ask, “So what would you propose?”

This has a natural effect of calming them and getting them thinking in terms of problem solving. At first, the HCP will try to avoid answering to shirk responsibility and focus on blaming others. Keep coming back to it! “So what would you suggest?” or “I’m interested in your thoughts about what we should do here.”

Tips to Consider When the Conflict Continues

  1. Deconstruct the proposals—reframe and restate what their primary goal seems to be.
  2. Suggest three alternatives—HCPs aren’t’ used to considering alternatives. They are used to anchoring.
  3. Take a break for a week (or two or three)—Stressful issues lose potency over time.
  4. Suggest that each party write down their “outer limits”—where are their non-negotiable bottom lines?
  5. Recognize that it usually takes HCPs two to three times longer to reach an agreement.
  6. Tell them to think of two proposals for any sticking points.
  7. Discuss who is going to make the decision.