Surviving Divorce With A High Conflict Personality

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Jeremy SkowHigh Conflict Personalities (HCPs) possess many of the characteristics of a personality disorder including unmanaged emotions, all-or-nothing thinking and an inability to take responsibility for their actions. HCPs are persuasive blamers by nature. They convince others that their problems are caused by something or someone else. This is why many narcissists, borderlines, histrionics and antisocials employ smear campaigns when they target someone. By blaming others they keep the focus off the real problem, themselves.

HCPs are driven by four primary fears: being ignored, belittled (including public exposure), abandoned and losing control (over you, assets or the situation). The divorce process triggers these fears because it is a final loss of control and also means that their flaws and faults might be exposed to others. Your conflict with them therefore may have little to do with the amount of money at stake or who gets primary custody. To best survive your divorce you’d benefit from knowing how to best manage their personality.

HCPs are usually poor negotiators. Their all-or-nothing thinking considers compromise to be losing and people who are willing to accept a fair deal as losers. Oftentimes they simply want to extract the maximum amount from you so the actual amount becomes meaningless. If you chose to be generous and give away more than you’re obligated, an HCP would see it as a sign of weakness and press for even more. No matter what you offer, an ex like this will consider you a jerk. If you are generous, your ex will likely just consider you a stupid jerk. You can’t negotiate with someone like this. Protect your own interests. Tell your attorney what your bottom line is and let him or her communicate with your ex. Your ex is likely too stuck in the role of opposing you for you to make headway on your own.

Remain vigilant for extreme behavior. Your ex’s shallow arrogance and insensitivity typically devastates and angers those around them until they want something (or feel threatened) and then, suddenly, they change their attitude promising to be easier-going and more cooperative. Dissolve fantasies that your ex-spouse will fundamentally change. They won’t. Be wary and proceed with caution.

Stay grounded and do not allow yourself to get pulled into their drama. Avoid being overly reactive, remembering that the more you escalate the emotions in a situation, the more that will feed into the HCP’s desire for attention. Maintain your perspective. Remember that your divorce is only an aspect of your life, not your whole life. HCPs want to keep you from moving on with your life, especially if you have children. Don’t give them that power.

High-conflict personalities are bullies. They like to “win” by making you angry or beating you down, so keep your feelings to yourself. If you let an HCP know how you truly feel, especially when your views differ from theirs, it will always be interpreted as a threat and invite more attacks. Remaining in the cross-hairs of an HCP is traumatic and emotionally exhausting. Look for supportive nurturing environments to address your feelings (therapy, support groups for people with personality-disordered exes, etc.)

Lastly, it is important to enforce boundaries to protect yourself and your life. Communicate only when necessary, and then do so briefly by email. Set aside specific times in your week to deal with these issues (email responses or legal consults) so it does not consume all your time and attention.

Jeremy Skow maintains a private practice in Great Neck. Contact him at 516-322-9133, jskow@lmhcny.com or www.mentalhealthcounselingny.com.

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