Why can’t some people just “get over it”?
“Just get over it,” I remember the judge saying in court to a divorced man and woman, who had returned to court for the umpteenth time arguing about what he did and what she did with their children recently. Unfortunately, some people don’t “just get over it” – even years later. Grieving and healing are extremely difficult for high-conflict people (HCPs) who are generally stuck in this behavior.
They are repeatedly stuck in the past, defending their past behavior and criticizing others’ past behavior – and talking about this with anyone who will listen. It’s as if they cannot grieve and heal the past, which causes them to increase conflicts rather than resolving them. That’s why they’re called “high-conflict people.” But don’t call them this; they will attack you back – sometimes for months or years. What’s to be Done?
1. Don’t criticize them. High-conflict people can be defensive and they don’t take criticism as a helpful process. It can feel like a life-and-death struggle, because criticism triggers feelings associated with unresolved hurts from a lifetime – for which they don’t have a mechanism for healing.
2. Don’t try to persuade them logically. It is very common for professionals, family and friends to try to persuade high-conflict people to just “turn off” their negative thinking, their extremely upset emotions and their inappropriate behavior. Yet logical arguments miss what the HCP is experiencing – emotional pain. Until this is addressed, logical thinking may be inaccessible to the HCP.
3. Do give them your empathy, attention and respect. People with high-conflict personalities have been criticized, rejected, humiliated and told to change since a very early age in most cases. When the people closest to them seem to treat them negatively, they go into a crisis pattern learned many years ago. Instead, what they need is to experience relationships in which they are treated with empathy, attention and respect (EAR).
Learn more about dealing with HCPs in Bill Eddy’s indespensible book, It’s All YOUR Fault! 12 Tips for Managing People Who Blame Others for Everything here. its-all-your-fault While using these techniques may not help an HCP heal a lifetime of hurt, it may reduce some relationship stress for a few minutes and not add to their problems.
Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq., is an attorney, therapist and mediator in San Diego, California. Co-founder of High Conflict Institute, he is author of several books on dealing with high-conflict personalities. For more visit www.highconflictinstitute.com.