Why Narcissism and Other High Conflict Personalities Are On the Rise

September 20, 2010 61 comments

There are several books, numerous articles and blog posts about our current culture of narcissism (Lasch, 1991; Twenge and Campbell, 2010; Pinsky, 2009). Much of the recent material focuses on celebrities and the more obvious types of ego mania and entitlement, bad parenting, the boom in social media and the cheap self-esteem that’s been fostered in the last four decades. The fact that narcissism is on the rise is frightening enough, but it’s not just narcissism. All high conflict personalities are on the rise and that includes the other Cluster B disorders: Borderline Personality Disorder, Histrionic Personality Disorder and Antisocial Personality Disorder.

Not all people with the above personality disorders are prone to high conflict, but many of them are (Eddy, 2008, p. 29). As a society, we need to be concerned that this percentage of the population is increasing. Individuals who fit this pattern adversely impact the workplace, government, the court system, school systems, healthcare and just about every facet of life. The cost to society is high because their behavior doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It affects millions of people every day. They consume more than their fair share of resources, rarely respect the rights of others and continue to transmit patterns of abuse to each successive generation of their offspring.

“High Conflict People have high-conflict personalities. Conflict is part of who they are. It’s a lifelong pattern of thinking and feeling  and acting. Time after time, they argue against feedback, regardless of how helpful or truthful it may be. And time after time, they try to persuade others to agree with their rigid points of view and to help them attack their Targets of Blame. The issues come and go, but their personality traits keep them in conflict. Their problems remain unresolved and the stress on those around them often increases” (Eddy, 2008, p. 16). High conflict people tend to follow a specific pattern (Eddy, 2008, p. 16):

  1. Rigid and uncompromising, repeating failed strategies
  2. Unable to accept or heal from a loss
  3. Negative emotions dominate their thinking
  4. Unable to reflect on their own behavior
  5. Difficulty empathizing with others
  6. Preoccupied with blaming others
  7. Avoid any responsibility for the problem or the solution

If you’re reading this, perhaps you’ve been or currently are the Target of Blame of a high-conflict spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend, ex, colleague, boss or stranger(s). Perhaps you’ve been on the receiving end of mobbing (bullying by a group instigated by one or two ringleaders) and/or a smear campaign or distortion campaign of a high-conflict person who has decided you’re to blame for her or his unhappiness. It’s a horrible position to be in, particularly because high-conflict individuals don’t seem to ever stop their blaming and malicious behaviors.

Do All High-Conflict People Have Personality Disorders?

No, some just have personality disorder traits and not a full-blown disorder(s). People with personality disorder traits are often stuck in their destructive behavior patterns, but they’re more likely to change than someone who qualifies for one or some combination of personality disorders. “However, when people who just have traits are in high-conflict situations (court litigation, dysfunctional workplaces, intense neighbor or family disputes) they appear to have personality disorders” (Eddy, 2008, p. 30).

More often than not, personality-disordered, high-conflict people fall into the, you guessed it, Cluster B continuum. Bleiberg (2001) refers to Cluster Bs as the “severe” personality disorders because they chronically engage in extreme conflict, drama and cause the most problems in society. For a brief description of the four Cluster B disorders, check out Diversified Mediation.

Why High-Conflict People Are On the Rise

In 2004, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that 14.8% of the US population meets the criteria to be diagnosed with at least one personality disorder from a sample of more than 43,000 interviewees. This study did not include Borderline, Narcissist or Schizotypal personality disorders. Therefore, the percentage is very likely much higher. NIH conducted the study because:

  • The lack of information on personality disorders is a major gap in US health policies.
  • Personality disorders seem to be significantly linked to work problems, marital/family/relationship problems and criminal activities.

The results showed a slightly larger number of personality disordered individuals in the younger age groups. The percentages diminish successively with each older generation. “Since personality disorders generally don’t change with age, this study reinforces the other indicators that personality disorders and traits are increasing in our society with each new generation” (Eddy, 2008, p. 32).

Eddy (2008, pp. 32-34) cites 6 reasons personality disorders are on the rise in modern urban cultures, some of which other authors have also noted:

  1. Instability in early childhood
  2. Diminishing social glue
  3. Loss of personal behavior role models
  4. A society of individuals
  5. Teaching self-centeredness
  6. Openness to social complaint (i.e., our frivolous law suit society)

Instability and the inability to adapt. Our core personality (temperament, introversion/extroversion, thinking/feeling, etc.) develops by the time we’re 5- to 6-years old. Healthy personalities change, evolve and adapt over the course of a lifespan, but for the most part, core characteristics are enduring. People with high-conflict personalities are usually unable to adapt and don’t evolve in a healthy way over time. Their personalities are extreme and extremely rigid. “The more stable and secure the first five or 6 years, the more secure and adaptable the person is as an adult” (Eddy, 2008, p. 32). Experiencing a high degree of instability in the first 6 years increases the likelihood of a child developing a personality disorder.

Diminishing social glue. Over the last 30 years, the US divorce rate has exploded. More children are raised in single parent families who have witnessed and experienced chaos, abuse/neglect and other disruptions and disconnections. Make fun of the “it takes a village” catch phrase all you like, but we are a hyper digitally connected and increasingly physically disconnected society. We used to know our neighbors, spend holidays with extended family and live in the same cities with our parents, aunts, uncles and cousins. We trusted teachers and other adult authority figures to discipline and model good behavior for our children. Over the last few decades, this has changed. We interact with digital devices that don’t respond with a smile, touch or disapproval for inappropriate behaviors.

Loss of personal behavioral role models. So who do we model our behaviors on? Reality stars? “A powerful part of personality development is family and community story telling about good and bad behavior” (Eddy, 2008, p.33). With our disconnected families and lack of community, people seem to be emulating the extreme high-conflict behaviors reported by the media in an escalating attempt to cover the most dramatic and extreme people and behaviors. Reality stars are rewarded with their excruciatingly long 15 + minutes of fame. These people get attention for behaving like egocentric, malicious, vindictive noise makers. When did making noise translate into making news? Recently, Laurence Fishburne’s daughter, Montana Fishburne, decided it would be a good career move to make a porno film. Sex tapes used to be the death knell of a career.

A society of individuals. We’ve become more and more socially isolated due technological advances that allow us to work and live apart from others. While telecommuting is great, interacting with an electronic device day in and day out means “we don’t depend on others as much, so we don’t have to compromise with them or even care about them. This reinforces self-centeredness and a drive for more control over our personal space and more desire for relationships with material goods” (Eddy, 2008, p. 33). People with high-conflict personalities are driven by fear: fear of being abandoned, fear of ridicule, fear of appearing inferior, fear of exposure and fear of losing control. Being socially isolated increases both the degree of fear and sense of disconnectedness that doesn’t allow them to see their impact on others. Additionally, living in a state of fear significantly contributes to the fight or flight (emphasis on the fight) mentality that high-conflict people seem to have.

Teaching self-centeredness or three generations of self-esteemers. The self-esteem movement was spawned by the mental health field in the 1970s. Forty years later, “this self-esteem focus has inadvertently given people high expectations of receiving benefits for themselves, without learning as many skills to achieve or give back to others. The effect is to teach narcissism as a cultural trait” (Eddy, 2008, p. 33). In a CNN opinion piece, Ruben Navarrette, Jr writes:

Americans have reared at least one generation of kids, or maybe two, to think of themselves as the last bottle of soda pop in the desert. We said we were building children’s self-esteem so they could be successful, but it never occurred to us that giving kids what psychologists call ‘cheap self-esteem’ could do more harm than good by making our kids think they’re 10-feet tall and bulletproof when they’re neither. Besides, what many of these parents were really doing was feeding their own egos; by telling your kids they’re special, it confirms that you’re special for having such special kids. Isn’t that special?

Ask any university professor about the degree of entitlement in recent generations of students who believe they should get A’s just for showing up. Oftentimes, when these young adults get the lower grades they deserve (e.g., poor attendance, incomplete work, poor test cores or not following assignment directions), the students complain to the professor and then escalate to the dean and right on up to the university president or, worse yet, get their outraged and enabling parents to do it for them. Additionally, recent research shows that social platforms like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace can be used to gauge narcissism and other problematic behaviors. I would love to see a study done on how social media is used to conduct distortion smear campaigns.

Openness to social complaints. Our legal system, work environments, community groups, social services and media provide a nutrient rich breeding ground for high-conflict people. High-conflict people have hijacked the concept of ‘justice for all’ and perverted it into a weapon to punish and destroy their Targets of Blame. “Our procedures of fairness and openness unintentionally encourage complaints and prolonged disputes. We thoroughly and objectively examine limited ‘facts’ without recognizing the significance of personality problems and how they can distort the ‘facts.’ This encourages those with personality disorders to seek validation for personal problems and upsets that they can’t handle inside themselves through the courts and other agencies” (Eddy, 2008, p34). Unfortunately, persuasive blamers are often believed at first or indefinitely, until or unless you can catch them in contradictions or their behaviors become so egregious that they can no longer be ignored.

This is all very discouraging, which is why this information needs to become more accessible to the mainstream. Judges, attorneys, court evaluators, police and healthcare professionals—including mental health professionals—need to understand these issues and talk about them openly. As a society, we need to set limits and create consequences for high-conflict people rather than rewarding and enabling them to continue to drain resources and recklessly harm whomever they decide to target for their unhappiness.

by Dr Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD

Shrink4Men, Counseling, Consultation and Coaching

Dr Tara Palmatier provide confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Services for professional inquiries.


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  • Bleiberg. (2001). Treating personality disorders in children and adolescents. New York: Guilford Press.
  • Eddy, W. (2008). It’s all your fault! 12 tips for managing people who blame others for everything. HCI Press.
  • Lasch, C. (1991). The culture of narcissism: American life in an age of diminishing expectations. W.W. Norton and Compay.
  • Pinsky, D. (2009). The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism is Seducing America. Harper.
  • Twenge, J. and Campbell, K.W. (2010). The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement. Free Press.
  • Angiemedia: BPD distortion campaigns.
  • Angiemedia: What is the cost of BPD to society?
  • CNN: Joe, Kanye, Serena—Aren’t they special?
  • Diversified Mediation: High Conflict Personalities: How to keep them from destroying your life.

The Ego Epidemic: Narcissism Is On the Rise

September 14, 2010 72 comments

There’s an interesting article on the rise of narcissism at the Mail Online, “The ego epidemic: How more and more of us women have an inflated sense of our own fabulousness. The author, Lucy Taylor, cites research by Jean M. Twenge, PhD and W. Keith Campbell, PhD in their book, The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement. W. Keith Campbell, PhD has also researched and written about narcissism as it pertains to social media platforms. His work is cited in the post, Social Media Platforms, Narcissists, Borderlines and Histrionics: The Lure of Blogs, Facebook and MySpace.

In the Mail’s article, Ms Taylor shares the following research from Twenge and Campbell:

According to the American research, there has been a 67 per cent increase in it over the past two decades, mainly among women.

An estimated ten per cent of the population suffers from narcissism as a full-blown personality disorder.

The symptoms include: a grandiose sense of self-importance; the belief that he or she is special or unique and in some way better – either intellectually or physically – than others; a requirement for excessive admiration; a sense of entitlement, whether to fame, fortune, success and happiness or simply to special treatment; enviousness of others or a belief that others are envious of him or her; an inability to empathise; an inability to admit a mistake; and haughty behaviour or attitude.

What researchers have also identified, and are far more worried about, is what has been described as ‘normal’ narcissism – a cultural shift that has seen even non-narcissistic people seduced by the emphasis on material wealth, physical appearance and celebrity worship.

The researchers believe our culture brings out narcissistic behaviour in almost all of us.

They blame the internet (where ‘fame’ is a click away), reality television (where the lure of fame without talent is most prevalent), easy credit (which enables people to buy far beyond their ability to pay), celebrity worship, our highly consumerist, competitive and individualistic society, and a generation of indulgent parents who have raised their children to think they’re special, amazing and perfect.

According to Twenge, this focus on self-admiration has caused a cultural flight from reality to the land of grandiose fantasy.


We have phony rich people (who actually have massive mortgages and piles of debt), phony beauty (via plastic surgery), phony celebrities (via reality TV and YouTube), phony genius students (with grade inflation) and phony friends (with the social networking explosion).

Attention is a powerful reinforcement for individuals with narcissistic traits and/or anyone who craves validation and recognition. Many don’t seem to care if the attention they receive is for good or bad behavior or, worse yet, are unable to see how destructive and out of whack the behaviors for which they receive attention are. Attention is attention; it doesn’t seem to matter whether it’s good or bad attention to these individuals. Often the most entitled and/or dysfunctional voices dominate.

Ms Taylor further explores the rise of narcissism and its effect on dating. Women with narcissistic traits often have an over-inflated sense of themselves that has very little to do with how attractive or successful they are in reality. Ms Taylor goes on to interview Margaret Medhurt who owns and runs a dating service in the UK. Ms Medhurt has noticed the increase of narcissism in female clients over the last 30 years and discusses how it impacts her business:

‘It used to be that most women who joined a dating agency had a pretty good idea of where they stood in the eligibility stakes,’ she said. ‘But in the past few years, I’ve noticed that there are a significant number of women who don’t.

‘They tend to be in their 30s, and there is a wide discrepancy between how they perceive themselves and how others see them.

‘They are often very plain, but see themselves as being absolutely fabulous, exceptional people.

‘They invariably reject every guy’s profile I send them. But if a guy rejects their profile, there is all hell to pay. There is disbelief. They are really saying: “I’m so fabulous. How dare he turn me down?”

‘In the past few years, I’ve noticed a real sense of entitlement among this small group of women. The idea that a guy might not find them as amazing as they find themselves doesn’t enter their head.

‘They often become indignant and angry towards me, demanding to know why a guy dared to turn them down. Most people simply accept the facts of the dating game: some people will find you attractive and others won’t, in the same way that you’ll be drawn to some but not others.

‘These women, however, are unable to get their heads around the fact that the rest of the world might not share the distorted, inflated view they have of themselves.’

Ms Taylor also interviews, David Baxter, a 40-year old management consultant who recently re-entered the dating pool after being married for 9 years. He states:

‘I’ve had three successive dates recently with ladies in the late 30s to early 40s age bracket that have left me dumbfounded.’

‘I’ve never come across such massive egos, such arrogance and lack of basic courtesy.

‘It was as if these particular dates were a forum for them to tell me how exceptional they were. One told me repeatedly how many young guys at the gym asked her out; another was very artificial.

‘You sensed that they absolutely worshipped themselves, though none of them was drop-dead gorgeous or had amazing personalities, jobs or anything else to set them apart and elevate themselves into some superior position.

‘I also thought it was quite telling that none of them had ever been married, engaged or had recently – or perhaps ever – been in a long-term relationship.

‘I got the feeling that these women were living in a Sex And The City-inspired fantasy world. I also sensed that nobody would ever be good enough for them.

For those who are familiar with these issues, the material discussed in the article is no big surprise. However, it’s worth the read and also worth noting when mainstream publications acknowledge these issues. Thanks to the reader who sent the link to the article.

Shrink4Men Coaching and Consultation Services:

Dr Tara J. Palmatier provides confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.


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Introduction to the Men’s Movement: Interview with Paul Elam of A Voice for Men

September 10, 2010 31 comments

Last year, Paul Elam of A Voice for Men contacted me to ask if I would contribute to Men’s News Daily, a men’s movement website for which he is the editor. Intrigued, I read through the site and had some misgivings. There’s some material I agree with and some material that I found off-putting. Like any movement, men’s activism attracts different people with different ideologies and agendas. Primarily, I was put off by the extreme, neo-conservative beliefs and rhetoric of some of its members. Paul and I discussed my reservations, which he kindly addressed. He allayed my misgivings and I agreed to republish some of my material on MND.

I believe men and women need to organize and fight for fair legislation regarding domestic violence laws and divorce and custody legislation. Our system is sick and many people are stuck in sick workplaces and relationships that sap them of energy and the ability to make healthy decisions. When you’re in a sick system, you think, “this is just the way it is.” The dysfunctional system is so pervasive, many people don’t stop to think, “this isn’t how it should be and what can I do to change for the better.” A sick system programs you to tolerate abuse and injustice and tells you that there’s something wrong with you if you try to buck the system.

The post-feminist pendulum has swung too far to the other extreme. How is it just that a man can be forcibly removed from a home he paid for based on nothing more than an unsubstantiated claim of abuse? (Just do a search for ‘how do I get my husband out of the house.’) How is it just that one adult, by virtue of his sex, is financially responsible for another able-bodied adult just by virtue of her sex after the relationship ends and often for the rest of his lifetime? Even child support ends when a child becomes an adult. Why isn’t custody automatically presumed 50/50 in every state? Why aren’t women required to pay support for the 50% of the time the children are with their fathers (if the father is lucky enough to get 50/50 custody)? Why aren’t women prosecuted for making false abuse claims and violating court orders?

The present laws are unfair and they’re not going to change until the people who are the targets of this kind of injustice and the people who care about them organize, pitch in and fight to level the playing field. Both men and women need to join together to do this. To this end, I asked Paul if he would allow me to interview him to provide an introduction to the men’s movement and he very generously agreed:

1. Paul, in a nutshell, what is the men’s movement, men’s rights or men’s activism?

Actually, it takes two nutshells, because we are talking about two areas that have some overlap with each other.  The first is father’s rights and some other agendas that involve legislation and actual rights as we know them.  Clearly, with the bias against men in family courts, and things like false accusation of rape, domestic violence and sexual harassment we are talking about clear cut violations of constitutional rights and due process.

The rest, and I think equally important area, is what I prefer to call the men’s movement vs. calling it the men’s rights movement.  This is a movement that is well underway that is challenging men to examine their roles as men in modern times, and supports them for making more realistic choices about what they expect of themselves, particularly in their relationships with women.

This is the part of the movement to which I think you, Dr. T., make a particularly valuable contribution.  So much of our frustrations as men come from trying to satisfy some very unrealistic and unhealthy expectations from women.  That can come up for sure when we encounter personality disordered women in relationships, but also in our dealings with women that we would call normal.

The fact is that the continued expectations for men to act according to old school gender roles for men are out of sync in a world where women’s roles have changed so significantly.  In fact, I’d guess that many of the men you counsel were hobbled in dealing with borderline or narcissistic women, not just because those personalities are so good at manipulation, but because they are particularly adept at manipulating the pressures on men to “man up and take it.”

I think the men’s movement provides a lot of support to men for changing their expectations of themselves and certainly in placing some more realistic expectations on the women in their lives.

2. Why do you think so many people, including men, don’t take the men’s movement seriously or write it off as a bunch of angry, conservative women-haters, which, I have to admit was my blanket bias initially?

It’s a complicated question, but I think the first part of it is answered by understanding sexual selection.  The men’s movement advocates for men learning how to take better care of their own lives.  On the other hand, women tend to choose men who will sacrifice their own interests to them.  So in a sense, taking the men’s movement seriously is antithetical to competing for sexual selection.

At least it appears that way on the surface.  The truth is that men with their own sense of identity, values and boundaries do just fine with women.  But for most men the path of least resistance -sacrifice- appears to be their only option.  That is why I am a big fan of some aspects of Game, or Zeta Game as I have written about in some of my articles.  These concepts show men that having a more clearly defined set of expectations, and acting on them, can actually help them attract more and healthier women.

To the rest of your question, one of the reasons that the men’s movement has been tagged with attracting a bunch of angry, conservative women-haters is because some of those guys are out here and are very vocal.

Every movement has usurpers that hang out and attempt to take advantage of any momentum gained by using it for a different agenda.  It is to be expected.  But unlike feminism, which was commandeered by leftist radicals and misandrists, I think the men’s movement is doing a good job of evolving its mission in the right direction and disallowing political ideologues any significant foothold in the movement.

Most modern MRA’s are well aware of the fact that neither mainstream political party can be trusted because they both maintain and promote anti male policies.

And luckily, since the growing “non rights” arm of the movement isn’t dependent on politics for growth, it makes it easier to shake off the socon’s (social conservatives) and extreme left elements as we go along.

3. Why should everyone reading this, whether they’re male or female, care about the men’s movement?

Because we care about our sons, brothers, fathers, grandfathers, uncles and husbands.  Allow me to take your question here and rephrase it.  Why should anyone reading this, whether they’re male or female, care about men?

That is a good bit easier to answer.  For instance, when I tell you that men now only represent 40% of college graduates, and that number is projected to significantly worsen over the next twenty years, or that male suicide rates are five times that of women, or that 80% of the jobs lost on the current bad economy were men, and remind you that we are talking about people we love, then the points become a little more personal.  None of these issues have anything to do with “rights” per se, but they do have to do with our families and people we care about.

It is just that as a culture, we have a very hard time seeing men as a monolithic group unless it is to vilify them or bemoan their having too much privilege.  But thanks to people like you and others this is beginning to change.

And by pushing this message out there, we can confront an entire culture and challenge them to examine their own prejudices about men.  Underneath it all, I do think people are good.  Sometimes they just need a kick start. Men and boys are in trouble these days, and I think when most people become aware of it, they will open up to doing something to correct it.

4. I think it’s natural for most people not to think much about their rights until they’re violated or experience some injustice. For men and women who reach this point, what can they do to get active, involved and make a difference?

The answers to this one are unlimited.  There is much that needs to be done.  The first thing I suggest is for people to work in the area that they feel passionate about.  If you are a man who has lost everything to a corrupt family court system, or a woman who has seen this happen to a man you care about, then there are organizations like Father’s and Families that do good work and I am sure would like help.  There is also Fathers4Justice, which operates internationally.

Also, there is a wide range of websites that push information regarding the men’s movement.  Angry Harry, The Spearhead, Misandry Review, and of course A Voice for Men.  All these sites operate, often on shoes string budgets, but accept donations.  If you can, donate to them. Or, If you can write effectively about your experiences, submit articles to them so that others may be able to identify with your circumstances.  Just add your voice to the choir.

The one bit of personal advice I have is not to let anyone talk or shame you out of your anger.  You have likely earned it and then some.  But don’t make everything you do just a product of being mad. Take whatever talents this life has brought you, whether it is computer skills, web development, graphic design, music (yes, we have our own genre of music in the MRM), writing, or other skills and let your indignation drive you to productive use of them.

When all is said and done, nothing beats rolling up your sleeves and getting busy.

For anyone interested in doing that, you can do so on your own, or there are certainly people in the movement that will help you find a place to plug in your talents and make a difference.

Thanks to Paul Elam of A Voice for Men for a very informative interview!

Shrink4Men Coaching and Consultation Services:

Dr Tara J. Palmatier provides confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.


If you find the information I provide free of charge helpful and valuable here on Shrink4Men, please consider making a donation via PayPal to help me maintain the site.

Divorce and High-Conflict People: Borderlines, Narcissists, Histrionics, Sociopaths and Other Persuasive Blamers

August 31, 2010 99 comments

Dr. Tara,

I’m a few days away from being divorced from my spouse.

I’ve been married for a most of eight years and up until about 9 months ago I have felt I am crazy… actually some days I still do. My spouse isn’t particularly violent but has consistently abused me mentally and emotionally for most of the marriage (constant criticism, control of all finances, isolation from friends and family, etc).

I met my best friend a year and a half ago and she has recently become my girlfriend. I got to really know her well as she was wrapping up the divorce from her Borderline Personality Disorder spouse. He tried to destroy her every way possible. We worked together at the time and she would remark how I looked like a POW or shell shocked most days. Along the way we began to compare notes and I started to recognize that maybe I wasn’t the one who was crazy. She found your site and sent links of specific articles. For once in my life it was like someone knew what it was like to be married to my spouse.

My spouse has, up until just recently, been pretty well-behaved, however now that there is a clock ticking we’ve had plenty of engagement time to discuss the details of our divorce agreement… go figure it’s never exactly right regardless how many times we modify the language and it’s always my fault. My tolerance for her has shrunk considerably and I regularly find myself feeling worthless, unloved and apologizing for anything and everything that goes awry much the way I did when I was living with her.

Why does she persist in dragging this out? Why is she being so aggressive, punitive and malicious? What recommendations do you have for how to extricate myself from these sorts of feelings… and how do I learn to not react to her verbal attacks in the first place?



Hi Max,

What you’re describing is typical divorce behavior for Cluster B Personality Disordered individuals (Borderlines, Narcissists, Histrionics and Antisocials) or, what attorneys refer to as High-Conflict People (HCP). Not all HCPs have full-blown personality disorders, but they share many of their traits such as emotional reasoning, all-or-nothing thinking, minimizing the positive while maximizing the negative, chronic blaming and an inability or unwillingness to take responsibility for their actions. William Eddy, LCSW, Esq, has written two helpful books on the subject:

High-Conflict People: The Issue Is Rarely the Issue.

Eddy believes that most conflict is personality driven. This means that it’s not the amount of money at stake, who gets primary custody or who left the toilet seat up or down. Your ex is prolonging the divorce for a reason and it’s probably not about the amount of support or who gets the wedding china. In high-conflict cases, the stated issue typically isn’t the real issue. The real issue is the personality (or personality disorder) of one or both parties.

“Not everyone with a personality disorder becomes a high-conflict personality (HCP). Only those who are also Persuasive Blamers seem to become HCPs. Persuasive Blamers persuade others that their internal problems are external, caused by something else or someone else. Once others are persuaded to get the problem backward, the dispute escalates into a long-term, high-conflict situation. One that few people other than persuasive blamers can tolerate” (Eddy, 2006, p. 29).

Not all Cluster Bs are persuasive Blamers, which makes their craziness, distortions and bald faced lies easier to detect, contain and redirect in a dispute. “It’s only the Persuasive Blamers of Cluster B who keep high-conflict disputes going. They are persuasive, and to keep the focus off their own behavior (the major source of the problem), they get others to join in the blaming” (Eddy, 2006, p. 30). This is why many Narcissists, Borderlines, Histrionics and Antisocials effectively employ smear campaign and mobbing tactics when they target someone—be it a spouse, attorney, court evaluator or therapist. By blaming others for everything that’s wrong in their lives they keep the focus off the real problem; themselves. This is nothing more than a primitive ego defense mechanism at play.

Divorce Is the Ultimate F— You.

When a man divorces, he’s basically saying, “Living with you is so intolerable, I’m willing to risk giving up half or more of my assets and losing my home and children to be free of you.” (*Please note: 70% of US divorces are initiated by women and women are typically the “winners” in state-run Divorce Lotto Court. They typically walk away with half the assets even if they didn’t contribute a dime to the marriage and get primary custody even if they’re not the better parent). Most women who divorce don’t stand to lose as much as most men). Therefore, divorce is the ultimate narcissistic injury and ultimate abandonment. Even if the HCP/Cluster B/Persuasive Blamer initiates the divorce, they still view it as a zero sum/winner take all/destroy the other party battle to the death.

According to Eddy, High-Conflict People, Borderlines, Narcissists, Persuasive Blamers—whatever you want to call them—are driven by 4 primary fears:

  • the fear of being ignored
  • the fear of being belittled (includes the fear of public exposure)
  • the fear of being abandoned
  • the fear of being dominated (includes the fear of losing control—control over you, control over money/assets and control of herself)

The divorce process triggers these fears and pushes all of their hot buttons, which explains why many escalate their controlling and abusive behaviors during a divorce. Divorce represents a final loss of control and means that their flaws and faults might be exposed to friends, family, mental health professionals and the court system. Most Cluster Bs fight tooth and nail against having their abusive traits and other nasty qualities exposed. Now that you’re no longer together, you know too much about her and, therefore, must be discredited and destroyed so that no one will suspect that she’s actually the one with the problems. This is her logic.

Why Do They Drag Out the Divorce Process?

1. “Blamers are not usually good at negotiation and other forms of compromise. They have all-or-nothing thinking, they personalize even the most minor issues, and they may feel that giving in to the other party’s requests is a form of abandonment or threat to their superiority” (Eddy, 2004, p. 36). This type of individual sees compromise as losing and people who are willing to accept a fair compromise as losers. Eddy (2004, p. 36) makes this interesting diagnostic distinction: “Borderlines feel that they must refuse compromise to avoid feeling abandoned. Narcissists feel that they are superior and should receive more.” Although, I think in most cases both of these cognitive distortions are often at work.

This is also is why so many of them have a difficult time articulating what they want in terms of a settlement at the onset of the divorce process. She’s reluctant to agree to anything because she wants to extract the maximum amount from you. “If he’s willing to give me this, maybe I can gouge another pound of flesh.” The actual monetary amount/degree of custody is meaningless; if she gets more, in her mind it means she wins and is right and will be viewed by others as the winner who’s in the right.

“When you are negotiating with a Blamer, they will pressure you to give them much more than a court would give them because they were abandoned or are superior” (Eddy, 2004, p. 30). Mediation and other collaborative techniques are difficult for severe Blamers because “they cannot handle compromises, they cannot listen to ideas that conflict with their reality, the abandonment feels too intense, and they cannot handle the combination of physical closeness and emotional distance (ending their lives together while sitting together)” (Eddy, 2004, p.30).

2. The divorce process gives individuals like your wife a raison dêtre. Women with these issues often have no interests (other than controlling you), identity or personal/career goals. Divorce and annihilating you becomes their new full-time job. Even after you both agree to a settlement, individuals like your wife will have their attorney try to revise and rewrite the terms in an effort to prolong the process and the attention she receives from it, to get more than her fair share, and to maintain her control over you by not letting you get on with your life. If you think about it, it’s actually pretty pathetic. People who are in their right minds want to end this adversarial and emotionally and financially costly process as quickly as possible, not prolong it.

3. High-conflict people feed off of conflict and chaos. It gives them a buzz. For many, the only way they know how to relate to others is through aggression, blame and playing the victim. Once it ends, what does she have left? Nothing.

4. Oppositional withholding. This is more leftover baggage from your marriage. Many of these women are withholding partners. Meaning, if there’s something you really want, she doesn’t want you to have it. The more you want something, no matter how insignificant and small, the more she finds reasons that you shouldn’t have it or actively obstructs you from getting it. In this respect, these women are like oppositional, defiant toddlers. The more you want to wrap up the divorce; the more she digs in her heels and tries to delay it.

The Endless Bag of Cluster B Tricks: Derailing and Tangenting.

Like you, many of the men I work with often become stonewalled by their exes just as they near the finish line. These men are neither personality disordered nor high-conflict; they just want to be done. Every time they get close to a settlement, their ex derails, blows up or delays the process by not responding to letters, canceling appointments, making new allegations and demands and/or walking out on settlement talks with mediators, evaluators, etc. This is a Cluster B trait that is appropriately called derailing.

In your case, derailing is an attempt to intentionally try to destroy the progress you’ve made in your settlement talks. For example, during negotiations, you’re able to get through most of the issues calmly and reasonably. The process seems to be going well and you’re hopeful that you’ll be able to resolve the matter. Once you’re close to an agreement, your ex jumps to a hot button topic (e.g., having to support herself, your new girlfriend, your family whom she hates, accusations that you’re hiding money—it could be anything).

“The topic is usually one in which somehow something that you have done, are thinking of doing or [she] believes you have done or are thinking of doing. The rationality of the accusation, despite any information to the contrary, is irrelevant. Then [she] escalates that topic to its worst, going into a rage” (bpd411.com). This may end in her storming out of the session and reneging on items to which she previously agreed. This behavior destroys any progress that’s been made and puts you back at square one.

Tangenting is a less explosive form of derailing, but with the same end result. For example, when you’re just about to reach a solution, your ex will “change the subject, go sideways to a related, but different topic and refuse to return to the original issue. She may even project and blame you for obstructing the process, which is just another a side topic to keep you from returning to the original topic and its solution. These side topics are also never resolved.

“There is some logic to the connection between the topics that, on the surface, appears rational.” This second topic is usually a recurring one that makes you the target of more blame. These make convenient side issues when a solution is too closely approached. When you attempt to bring the discussion back to the original topic, [she] will usually accuse you of being too controlling or that you think the world revolves around you” (bpd411.com). Both tangenting and derailing are often used to prolong the divorce process during negotiations and anything else this type of person wants to avoid—like discussing your feelings, your needs or how she hurt you when you were still together.

So What Can You Do?

Attorneys and mediators approximate that they accomplish 5 minutes of work for every hour spent with a high-conflict person. This is all well and good, but legal services aren’t cheap and why should you get stuck footing the bill because your ex has issues?

1. Tell your attorneys what your bottom line is and stick to it. Let him or her communicate with your ex, since it doesn’t seem that you’re able to bring this to a conclusion with her. She is probably too stuck in the role of opposing and punishing you for you to make any headway with her.

2. Maximize any leverage you have. These women tend to be transactional in their relationships, so you might want to find something to withhold from her in order to get a more equitable outcome. Also, stop being so damned reasonable. Being fair and reasonable doesn’t compute for this type of individual. When you’re generous and give away more than you’re obligated, she sees it as a greenlight to push for even more. She doesn’t think, “Wow, he’s being so generous. I’ll take it.” She thinks, “Sucker. I’ll bet I can get even more if he’s willing to agree to this.”

You are probably a very nice guy and want to be seen as a nice, reasonable guy. She knows this and is working you. The reality is that no matter what you do, your ex thinks you’re a jerk. When you’re reasonable or make concessions to her demands, she thinks you’re a stupid jerk. No matter what you do, she’s going to see you as the bad guy, so do what you need to do protect your best interests. High-conflict people/bullies only respect people who push back hard. Don’t sink to her level, but it may be time to play hardball, which is also probably best handled by your attorney.

3. Choose your battles. Determine what’s most important to you, but don’t let her know. Remember, most of these types withhold to punish. Pretend like you don’t care about the things you care about most and care about the things you don’t really care about. This doesn’t always work, but it’s worth a shot.

4. Get it in writing. If you finally do reach a settlement via mediation or another process, don’t let her leave without signing something! Don’t give her time to think it over. Whenever possible, get commitments from her in writing right then and there. Verbal agreements from this kind of person are meaningless. Often, their written agreements are also meaningless since many Narcissists, Borderlines, Histrionics and other high-conflict types believe they’re exempt from the rules by which the rest of us mere mortals abide. At least if you get something from her in writing you’ll have some legal recourse if she later tries to obstruct or make new demands.

5. Practice emotional detachment. As for dealing with your emotions and not reacting to her verbal jabs; don’t engage (easier said than done, of course). I suggest you read the following articles on no contact and emotional detachment and try to put the techniques into practice:

Hang in there. You’re in the home stretch.

Shrink4Men Coaching and Consultation Services:

Dr Tara J. Palmatier provides confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.


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Lost and Found Conclusion: We Have a Winner!

August 18, 2010 24 comments

Shortly after I posted Lost and Found 2 weeks ago, I began to receive emails from 7—yes, 7 and counting—individuals who thought festeredzit/ursyko/wart/pollywannaquack was their ex or friend/family member’s ex.

The . . . eh-hem . . . lucky winner was also the first gentleman to contact me. He was at a business dinner when he received the alert for the post and said his heart sank down into his gut as he read the headline. He had been having second thoughts about whether he tried as hard as he could and states that my blog post was a sign that he had absolutely made the right decision.

Turns out she’s a Long Island native who was living down South and then moved back home after she imploded their relationship and attacked him cruelly during the break-up of their engagement. The gentleman in question asked to have a session with me in which we were able to piece the timeline of events and identity of this woman together. We reviewed her old emails to him and the language patterns and expressions used are pretty identical (although all written communication from Cluster B’s is eerily similar—I swear to god these folks are all sharing the same brain). We are 99.99% certain it’s her. All the dots connect. He has asked to be kept abreast of new SPAM she sends, which I’ve been doing.

So another episode of BPD Theater comes to a close. Be sure to tune in next week. Oh, and, J-, right back quack ‘ya!

Shrink4Men Coaching and Consultation Services:

Dr Tara J. Palmatier provides confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.


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News Item: Long Island Narcissist Hires Discount Hitman to Kill Her Husband During Divorce

August 18, 2010 32 comments

I love a good deal as much as the next woman and patronize Filene’s Basement and Nordstrom’s Off the Rack because I believe it’s crazy to pay full retail prices, but this takes bargain shopping to a whole new level.

A Long Island woman was arrested in March for putting a hit out on her husband of 21 years. Susan and Peter Williams were in the middle of a divorce. In an effort to ensure she would walk away with their million dollar residence and other assets, she tried to have him bumped off and couldn’t believe the great price she got. Look how much money I saved trying to have you offed, sugarbear! Who’s a savvy shopper! The New York Post writes:

An upper-crust Long Island housewife accused of hiring a hit man to off her hubby lamented she could only afford to maim him — but then was thrilled to learn she could whack him at a bargain-basement price of just $20,000, authorities said yesterday.

That’s the stone-cold, cost-calculating mentality of sick soccer mom Susan Williams, 43, who allegedly hired an undercover cop this week to whack her husband of 21 years. She was held yesterday on $1 million bail.

The twisted plot didn’t surprise her long-suffering spouse, Peter Williams.

His lawyer said the woman “tortured” the poor man with sick lies during their divorce in a grab for their million-dollar Garden City home and other cushy assets.

She even allegedly turned their four kids — ages 11 to 19 — against him.

“I can’t believe it took her this long” to try to kill Peter, said his divorce lawyer, Nancy Dreeben.

“She’s a desperate woman, and she will just do whatever she needs to do to get what she wants. She’s a narcissist.”

Dreeben said Susan admitted she cheated on her husband during their marriage — even bedding the real-estate lawyer for whom she worked before he fired her.

Susan stole marital assets and then, after filing for divorce in 2008, falsely accused Peter — a 46-year-old fence-company owner — of physical violence against their kids and of forcing her to have deviate sex, Dreeben said.

Those claims were never substantiated and Susan a year later even willingly agreed to allow Peter visitation rights, the lawyer noted.

Peter Williams, 46, a Baldwin resident who is now working to get custody of his kids, said, “I am thankful that the person that my wife sought to help in hiring a hit man had the decency to contact the appropriate authorities — otherwise I would probably be dead.”

Since her arrest, Susan has made counter claims that her husband, Peter, was really the abusive one and, of course, allegations of domestic and child abuse—you know, the usual. Ya’ gotta love it. The woman is caught dead to rights trying to have her husband murdered—at a discount—and she’s trying to portray herself as the victim. Very sad and sadder still that she won’t take responsibility for her actions

By the way, this is not the same woman from my Lost and Found post a few weeks ago—different part of Long Island. Now what was it I said the other day about Narcissists, Borderlines and Histrionics having elements of sociopathy? Nah, I’m way off base.

Shrink4Men Coaching and Consultation Services:

Dr Tara J. Palmatier provides confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.


If you find the information I provide free of charge helpful and valuable here on Shrink4Men, please consider making a donation via PayPal to help me maintain the site.

Protected: Are the Diagnoses of Borderline, Narcissistic, Histrionic or Antisocial Personality Disorder Helpful or Harmful for Nons?

August 17, 2010 Enter your password to view comments.

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