If you’ve ever encountered a high conflict individual, you know how challenging this personality type can be to interact with. No matter how much you try to keep the peace, they can always find a way to lash out, shift the blame, or harass or humiliate you in some way. All high conflict individuals may have different habits, but they display patterns of behavior that worsen conflicts instead of resolving them.
In many cases, people with high conflict personalities experienced childhood trauma or other challenges that prevented them from learning conflict resolution skills. However, these struggles do not create an excuse for high conflict individuals to mistreat others. If you have any type of relationship or connection with a high conflict person, it’s essential that you put boundaries in place to protect yourself. You should not sacrifice your own mental and emotional well-being for the sake of someone else’s unhealthy habits.
Here Are Six Strategies for Managing High Conflict Personalities
1. Recognize where their skills are lacking.
High conflict individuals may not share your ability to empathize, accept responsibility, or communicate calmly about an issue to reach a resolution. Confrontation often happens when someone expects the high conflict person to display better communication skills. If you can identify where the individual struggles, though, you can prepare in advance for your interactions.
For example, you might notice that your coworker lashes out in anger if they think they’re being blamed for something. You can use this knowledge to plan what you’ll say when you approach them about an issue that needs resolving. This helps you avoid being caught off-guard by a confrontational comment, and it allows you to emotionally distance yourself before engaging in a conversation that might take a turn for the worse.
2. Accept them without an expectation of change.
High conflict personalities are hard to deal with, and the emotional immaturity can cause a great deal of turmoil in a friendship, romantic relationship, or family unit. Accepting the person for who they are may not be your first instinct, but it can help you manage your expectations for their behavior.
Frustration occurs when we expect more of someone than they give us. If you cling to the hope that a high conflict person will change their ways, you’ll probably find yourself disappointed time and time again. When you accept their behavior and stop expecting change, you’ll avoid a great deal of disappointment.
This doesn’t mean that you should condone or support someone’s harmful behavior, though. You can recognize and accept a person’s flaws while also setting firm boundaries to prevent them from hurting you.
3. Detach and stay calm during confrontation.
Unfortunately, confrontation with a high conflict personality is sometimes unavoidable. You can greatly reduce the emotional impact of these episodes by trying to understand the individual’s patterns and planning in advance for the conflict. During the confrontation, the best thing you can do is emotionally detach. This is easier said than done, but try to remember that the person has a pattern of emotional immaturity and that you cannot take it personally.
When someone starts to get confrontational or aggressive with you, it’s natural to respond in the same way. High conflict people will only use this as an excuse to escalate the situation, though. If you can remain calm and not respond to their hurtful comments or actions, you’ll give them less fuel.
4. Think about the present instead of the past.
If you’ve known someone with a high conflict personality disorder for a long time, you probably have a lengthy list of past grievances. You don’t have to forgive the person for these wrongdoings but revisiting past issues will likely only lead to more conflict.
When you have to interact with the individual, think about what you’re trying to accomplish right now instead of what happened in the past. Although the person may bring up past conflicts to try to bait you, remember that you cannot change what already happened. If they mention past issues, try to redirect their attention to the matter at hand.
5. Plan for reasonable outcomes.
You might desperately want to resolve the issues between yourself and the high conflict individual. This is an especially common challenge for those who have family members with conflict problems. You may crave a sense of closeness and normalcy with your parent or sibling, and you may want more than anything to heal the relationship. While this may be possible if the individual commits to in-depth mental health work, in most cases, you shouldn’t expect a major emotional breakthrough.
You can protect yourself and avoid frustration by setting specific, attainable goals for your interactions. Instead of hoping to fix the relationship as a whole, try to determine what you want to accomplish when you see them. For example, your goal with a high conflict sibling on a holiday may be to share a good meal together. Your goal with a coworker may be to complete a shared task. By planning these specific outcomes, you’ll emerge from the interactions with a sense of accomplishment instead of disappointment.
6. Take care of yourself.
Your own mental and emotional health should be your priority when managing high conflict personalities. Sometimes, you may have to step away from a situation or pull back from the relationship altogether. The individual might try to make you feel bad for setting boundaries, but you owe it to yourself to protect your own well-being.
Therapy can be an incredibly helpful resource when learning to deal with high conflict personalities. If you have a close and long-term relationship with a challenging person, counseling could be an opportunity to explore how that relationship has influenced your life. You can also work on setting boundaries and improving your own communication skills in therapy, which can have countless benefits for your overall quality of life.
The Beverly Hills Therapy Group provides counseling for individuals struggling with mental health disorders, relationship issues, and other concerns. If you’re looking for therapy in Los Angeles, you can reach out to us today.