What Is High Conflict Personality and How To Deal With Someone Like ThatFeb 03, 2023
A person with a high conflict personality disorder seeks conflict all the time.
Learn how to read the signs and how to deal with someone like that!
Do you know someone who’s always looking for conflict, instead of wanting to resolve it? How would you go about coexisting with somebody like that?
Today we’re talking about high-conflict personalities, and how to deal with them.
As a personality disorder expert, I’m very interested in human behavior, and dysfunctional personalities are particularly intriguing to me.
A high-conflict personality, while not an actual diagnosis, can appear in people with different types of personality disorders.
But first, let’s understand what that means.
What is High Conflict Personality?
High conflict personality is a term used to describe people that like to increase conflict rather than decrease it.
You may wonder what sort of personality would do that.
They are often people with what we call Dramatic Type Personality Disorders, or Cluster B, such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Histrionic Personality Disorder.
People that have these kinds of disorders are different from everybody else, because they have deep characterological flaws, and their personalities are dominated by one major dysfunction.
For example, a narcissist is chronically grandiose, while someone with an antisocial personality has no integrity, and people with borderline personality disorder are chronically unstable.
In all these cases, those dysfunctions dominate their personalities.
While a large proportion of people with high conflict have some sort of personality disorder, a variety of things can cause it.
It can also be cultural or have to do with someone’s background, if, for example, they were raised in a high-conflict household. In general, high-conflict personalities want to escalate conflict instead of reducing it.
Let’s talk about some of the personality characteristics that cause people to have high-conflict personalities.
What Causes High Conflict Personality?
This one may be obvious: people with high-conflict personalities are aggressive.
They are constantly looking for a fight or an argument and may enjoy getting in these dynamics because they like the feeling of control that comes with that.
People with high-conflict personalities can be deeply insecure and need to constantly prove to themselves that they are worthwhile and that they matter.
The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s apathy.
So if someone with a high conflict personality feels hated, that makes them feel important; If they feel ignored, that makes them feel unimportant.
3. Displaced Anger
Displaced anger happens when anger should be focused on one thing but is focused on another, like when, for example, after having a hard day at work, somebody comes home and yells at the dog.
This can often happen with high-conflict people, as they don’t know how to manage or cope with their anger, directing it to you instead.
4. Personality Disorders
As I mentioned previously, the dramatic type personality disorders are all very high conflict.
High-conflict personalities can also be triggered by trauma, as a reaction to trying to protect oneself.
Our survival skills and mechanisms that are built into our bodies are extremely powerful and can react very strongly.
That is why, sometimes, people with high conflict personalities are really trying to protect themselves.
Now, let’s talk about some of the symptoms of a high-conflict personality.
What are the Symptoms of High Conflict Personality?
1. Blaming Others
In other words, not being able to take responsibility.
This is very much a characteristic of a personality disorder.
People with personality disorders don’t have insight and they don't accept responsibility for pretty much anything.
If, for example, someone stubs their toe, rather than going “oh wow. I’m clumsy”, it’s “oh, you were distracting me”, “you put that box there”, “you did this”, “you did that”... that’s something they do to replace any responsibility from themselves onto somebody else, and high conflict personalities, oftentimes, do this.
2. Unmanaged Emotions
People with unmanaged emotions don’t have the ability to cope with intense emotions, so they take them out on everybody else around them.
Not managing stress, anxiety and personality issues can lead to seeking out conflict and having high conflict in relationships.
3. All-or-Nothing Thinking
When you have all-or-nothing thinking, there’s no gray area. It’s either all or none, black or white.
People who think like this, get into these sorts of cognitive patterns where they don’t want to lose, so they will argue about anything and take everything way too seriously.
We often see this with people that are anxious, have borderline personality, or are narcissists.
4. Extreme Behaviors
Impulsivity is something we see with certain personality issues, like antisocial personality disorder, or sometimes with bipolar people when they’re manic.
Acting impulsively can lead to extreme behaviors, and people that engage in that are more likely to also engage in seeking out conflict.
5. Victim Mentality
As I mentioned before, a lot of these people can’t take responsibility for anything.
If you can’t take responsibility for things, then you’re going to be the victim of everything.
So, there is a certain degree of victim mentality with this.
When people feel like a constant victim, they also feel like wanting to win everything and starting conflicts about everything.
And then, whether they win or lose the conflict, they are still going to feel like victims.
If they win the conflict, then someone else is going to say, “but you’re too mean”, or “was it all really worth just to win?”, and they could be like “well I guess I’m the victim then, because now I’m the bad guy”.
Or, if they’ve lost an argument, they’re going to feel like, “well, I’m a victim because you’ve just beat me into submission” or whatever it is, and then they’re going to walk away trying to make you feel bad.
All in all, for people with high conflict personalities, they are going to be the victim, whether they win or lose. It’s a lose-lose situation for everybody else.
6. Treating Conflict As Normal
These folks will act like conflict is something we should all have to deal with.
That’s not normal levels of conflict, because we all deal with conflict to some degree.
It’s about dealing with their intensity, that goes to a level that is uncomfortable for most of us to be around. Most people don’t want and don’t know how to deal with that.
So, acting like their behavior is normal is gaslighting you into believing “oh no, the problem is that you’re not good enough at managing conflict, so you should be able to deal with my stuff, that must mean that you’re weak”.
7. Lacking Communication Skills
These are people who really don’t know how else to communicate.
It could be because of how they were raised or be a part of a larger system of issues, but they don’t know how to navigate things.
Maybe they have no frustration tolerance, so they just get mad, or have angry outbursts. They’re just ok with being highly conflictual.
8. Personality Disorders or Traits
Someone can have traits of a disorder without having the full personality disorder.
So, what we can see is people that don’t meet the full criteria but still have some corks associated with it, which will still lead to very high conflict.
I think everybody knows people or has experienced somebody at work that seeks conflict or have been in relationships where somebody’s constantly confrontational.
Having said all of this,I’m not saying you shouldn’t stand up for yourself or that you can’t speak up when it generates conflict.
Conflict can be healthy if the people involved are looking to understand one another.
However, people with this personality disorder trait, once again, seek out conflict where they always win, make other people feel bad or defeated, and are not trying to solve anything. They just want to fight.
Is High Conflict Personality a Diagnosis?
You can’t diagnose someone with high conflict personality disorder, because that isn't technically a thing, but it does describe a constellation of behaviors.
While it isn’t an actual disorder, there probably is an underlying diagnosis.
How is High Conflict Personality Treated?
Treatment depends on the underlying issue.
If it is a personality disorder, it’s going to take many months or years of a specific type of treatment by someone who specifically treats personality disorders, like I do.
If it’s something like post-traumatic stress, or if it’s due to anxiety, those can also be treated.
But the biggest thing is that you must identify why somebody has a high-conflict personality because there’s probably a disorder underlying it.
If you can treat that, you can minimize the issues that come with the high conflict.
So, how do you deal with someone who has a high-conflict personality?
How To Deal With a High Conflict Personality Person?
1. Calm Their Fears
Trying to address and calm fears can go a long way, but the result of this will depend on what the underlying issue is.
If it’s someone who’s anxious or someone who’s got trauma, that may work.
If it’s someone who’s a narcissist, it’s probably not going to do much.
2. Communicate Well
Don’t go down to their level when it comes to communications, stick to what is comfortable for you.
Communicate clearly, well, and try to be resistant and learn how to cope with their inability to do so.
I know that can be challenging but that’s going to be the best thing you can do.
3. Distance yourself
Some of these personalities are unmanageable, so you just have to see and keep distance if you have to.
Set boundaries and say, “I’m not going to do this”.
Can High Conflict People Change?
Change has a lot to do with the underlying reason behind it.
Some of these reasons are very much treatable or changeable, and almost any of them can be changed, even personality disorders.
But getting people with personality issues to be adherent to treatment and to agree to it is a big step, and not always easy.
So, can people with high-conflict personality change?Sure, they absolutely can.
Will most of them?
That’s a much harder issue because many of them are going to have to want treatment, and not all these kinds of personality types are going to have any interest in being treated.
I know that dealing with people with high-conflict personalities can be challenging.
If you have high-conflict relationships, or you’re in a relationship with someone who is like this, I highly recommend that you take one of my quizzes to find out the impact that that relationship may be having on you.
Are you having relationship problems? Want to know how to deal with your anxiety?