High Conflict Personality Disorder

High Conflict Personality: Is There One In Your Neighborhood?

by Peter Kilkus

Several years ago I managed the Facebook and Twitter programs for a political campaign. We interacted with our share of trolls opposing our views, but many were hackers in Indonesian boiler rooms, not Russians, paid by our political opponents to try to overwhelm our message with multiple negative posts under false names. 

However, many attacks came from what are known as High Conflict Personalities (HCPs) who just wanted to attack and argue, spout and vent. These types of folks have become more prevalent during the political controversies of the last few years. We learned that it was best just to ignore these attacks since there was no way these people could be convinced to change their views. They simply enjoyed the conflict and their false sense of superiority.

I faced a few of these HCPs when I was on the San Anselmo Town Council  Two were neighbors across the street  who would argue against any proposal before the Town Council just to become the center of attention - actually nailing their argumentative letters to my front door. The only way to deal with them was essentially to ignore them since all they really wanted was the attention.

The definition of almost all mental disorders is listed in the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders. One of these is High-Conflict Personality Disorder.

High Conflict Personality, given its overlap with the antisocial, borderline, narcissistic and histrionic personality disorders, may be more of a descriptive term than a specific diagnosis. Persons with HCP tend to have several things in common.

They initiate and receive reward from conflict with others, and they are usually at the center of whatever conflict is occurring. They appear to treat conflict as normal and expected in their interactions, to a point at which conflict becomes a defining aspect of relationships. They are adept at escalating conflict and at blaming others.

At the same time, they have great difficulty seeing things through the eyes of others and they are extremely reluctant to take responsibility in their lives or to accept blame when things go wrong. They tend to be emotional, aggressive, mistrustful and controlling. They easily see themselves as victims, and they are extremely resistant to acknowledging that they may have contributed, in even the smallest way, to making a situation difficult.

For people with HCP, the world appears in black and white. Others are either with them or against them. They have little or no insight into their own behavior, and they are easily threatened by interpretations of behaviors that do not comport with their own worldview. The people around them are perceived as all good (over-idealized) or all bad (devalued).

HCPs thrive on the conflict they create on social media platforms, even benign ones devoted to primarily shared local community matters. Experience shows that no matter how annoyed you may get and want to respond to their posts, the best way to deal with them is simply ignore them.

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