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What is high-conflict and what keeps conflict going?

blog soniaHigh-conflict is characterized by ongoing disagreement and an inability to reach mutual agreement. The differences or values that are held by each party may be stark and incompatible. High-conflict is expressed through blame, shame, put-downs, and verbal abuse. High-conflict leads to chronic stress.  Physical symptoms of high-conflict can include: headaches, stomachs, racing heart, insomnia, and other illness. It can lead to relationship distress and problems in the workplace.

High-conflict is fueled by divergent ideas, communication style, and belief system. The individual or party involved in conflict has a definitive way of to approach an issue, handle a situation, or even spearhead an outcome. They believe there is singular approach to resolution. Often there is hardcore belief on “what is wrong and how it must be fixed.”

Individuals who are involved in high-conflict often experience intense and unregulated emotion. It can be both frightening to the observer and to oneself.  Unregulated emotion may include fits of rage, anger, shutting down, sulking, and ongoing resentment. Chaos is often accompanied with negative emotion. Men and women who experience out-of-control emotion find fault with others and believe that they are not being treated fairly. Although this might be true at times, the core issue of high-conflict overrides a respectful outcome. In my years of practice, I have noticed that anger is associated with high-conflict, it is often interconnected to a thought process.

That process might include:

Mind-reading– Making assumptions about what others are thinking,

Personalizing-“He called me out on being late, he doesn’t like me.” Instead of taking responsibility for failed plans, the thought process is negative, personalized, and victim-based.

Black and White Thinking: Identifying there is one or another way of approaching an issue. There are absolutes in this type of thinking.

High-conflict often is associated with individuals who possess certain traits; these traits are a set of defense mechanisms and coping techniques to ward of feelings of powerlessness or anxiety. These traits can be clustered together to create a high-conflict personality. There might be someone in your life that is difficult or considered impossible. High-conflict personalities demonstrate:

Inflexible thinking

Lack insight about their behavior

Difficulty experiencing empathy

Tend to view others as pleasing or displeasing

Blame others for their reactions

Negative and uncompromising in their stance

Negative patterns with significant others

High-conflict individuals often have a target for their hostility; it might be their ex spouse, partner,
co-worker, or boss.  They often go to great lengths to support their position, engage in high-conflict divorce, and wage endless power-struggles. The net outcome is not only a problem for the high-conflict personality; it is problematic for the recipient.

It is more effective to learn how conflict is perpetuated and the patterns of behavior which are involved to positively impact the outcome.  I help individuals resolve high-conflict by offering counseling and group training which is aimed to regulate emotions and tolerate distress. Once that is accomplished, I offer systematic skill building and problem solving techniques.