Over the past decade I have observed a dramatic increase in high-conflict legal disputes––an increase driven more by personalities than by legal or financial issues. Perhaps half of all legal cases that go to trial today involve one or more parties with a HCP. In these cases, the conflict is driven more by internal distress than by external events.
After handling more than a thousand legal cases from three professional points of view––as an attorney, mediator and clinical social worker––I have recognized some surprising patterns to the high-conflict cases that are threatening to overwhelm our courts:
- The level and cost of conflict is not based on the issues or on the amount of money involved: personalities drive conflict.
- High-conflict personalities have a life-long, enduring pattern of behavior and blame, typically denying responsibility for their problems and chronically blaming others.
- Many HCPs fit the criteria of Cluster B personality disorders described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association.
- People with HCPs are more likely to escalate their disputes into court, either as plaintiffs bringing suit over misplaced blame for events in their lives, or as defendants due to interpersonal misconduct that harms others and needs to be controlled.
- The disputes of HCPs are generally misunderstood and mishandled, and continue to escalate at a huge cost to our judicial system and our society in terms of time, money and emotional distress for all involved.
Bill Eddy, High Conflict People in Legal Disputes, 2012
A little over two years ago I discovered a nifty little book titled High Conflict People. This book is devoted entirely to the spectrum of Cluster B personality disorders, one of my favorite topics, and their impact on our criminal justice system. The author, Bill Eddy, is a licensed social worker and a lawyer who has first hand experience dealing with this challenging bunch in both the mental health and the legal systems. Within the first two pages of chapter one that I quoted above, I saw how easily Bill Eddy's work applied to pit bull advocates. I intended to blog about it but for one reason or another, I never got around to it and it fell off my radar. The recent interest in me and my blog brought it back to the forefront.
The following is an excerpt, including the cartoon and table, from another book by Bill Eddy Managing High Conflict People in Court.
An Attraction to Court Process
The DSM-IV-TR lists 10 specific personality disorders, in three clusters (A, B, and C). The Cluster B personality disorders are generally identified as “high drama” and include Borderline, Narcissistic, Antisocial and Histrionic. Many of those with Cluster B personality disorders – or less severe “traits” – appear to have high-conflict personalities which frequently land them in our courts, either as plaintiffs endlessly pursuing exaggerated or unfounded claims, or as defendants who escalate conflicts into violence or other harmful behaviors.
This author believes that over the past fifteen years our courts have become a prime playing field for undiagnosed and untreated personality disorders. This is because the adversarial court process has a similar structure to their disorders, combined with increased media exposure of courtroom procedures and dramas during this same time period. Ironically, while practitioners and parties experienced in the adversarial court process are making a significant shift to alternative dispute resolution methods (arbitration, mediation, settlement conferences, private judges, collaborative law), those with high-conflict personalities (HCPs) have become attracted to the traditional litigation process, seeking “my day in court.” The following comparison from the author’s book, High Conflict People in Legal Disputes (2006) shows a striking fit:
Because the thought structure of HCPs and the adversarial court process are such a perfect fit, HCPs are at times effective at making innocent people look guilty, while at the same time with their desperate charm and aggressive drive they often succeed at looking innocent themselves. Many cases that appear to be two HCPs fighting are actually being driven by only one party who successfully makes the other party look bad. (Friedman, 2004)Bill Eddy, Managing High Conflict People in Court, 2008
Does anyone else see the striking similarities between high-conflict personalities and pit bull owners and advocates?
I highly recommended the following books by Bill Eddy:
It's All Your Fault!: 12 Tips for Managing People Who Blame Others for Everything, 2012
Managing High Conflict People in Court, 2008
High Conflict People in Legal Disputes, 2012
If you can only purchase one, I recommend High Conflict People in Legal Disputes, 2012 but if you can afford them all, do it. Eddy has many more books on the subject and I will eventually get through them all.
I can not stress the importance of these books enough. If you have an interest in Cluster B personality disorders, these are a must for your library. Eddy's contribution to the understanding of Cluster B personality disorders is uniquely impressive. It is a true gift to the world and should be required reading for law students (and arson investigators. lol). His books are by far some of the best sources of information on Cluster B personality disorders that I have read, especially the histrionic variant, which unfortunately has not garnered as much attention as the other three PDs but in my opinion, HPD is more often than not the "undiagnosed and untreated personality disorder" playing out in the bizarro world of pit bull advocates.
In High Conflict People Part 2, I will explore the recent shenanigans on this blog.