Personality Disorders in the Court Room

People with personality disorders thrive in court-room litigation, they are the high-conflict personalities (HCPs), and sometimes called “litigation junkies” by judges. According to Bill Eddy, an author who has worked in his previous life as a litigation lawyer and clinical social worker, HCPs fit perfectly into the traditional adversarial court process because of their similarities.

Bill Eddy made the following comparison of HCPs and the adversarial court process.

Characteristics of High Conflict Personality Characteristics of Adversarial Court Process
Life-time preoccupation: blaming others Purpose is deciding who is to blame; who is “guilty”
Avoid taking responsibility The court will hold someone else responsible
All-or-nothing thinking Guilty or not guilty are usually the only choices
Always seeking attention and sympathy One can be the center of attention and sympathy
Aggressively seeks allies in their cause Can bring numerous advocates to court
Speaks in dramatic, emotional extremes Can argue or testify in dramatic, emotional extremes
Focuses intensively on others’ past behavior Can hear if give testimony on past behavior of others
Punishes those guilty of hurting them Court is the place to impose maximum punishment
Try to get other to solve their problems Get the court to solve one’s problems
It’s okay to lie if they feel desperate Lying (perjury) is rarely acknowledged or punished

In addition to writing about HCPs and court, Mr. Eddy has developed a court diversion program called New Ways For Families (NWFF) which is being piloted in the Medicine Hat and Calgary.  NWFF tries to teach HCPs the skills needed to settle custody and family law disputes.

Bill Eddy spoke at the April 2014 AFMS conference held in Calgary. He spoke first about the relationship between childhood brain development and adult personality disorder. He then spoke about how to reduce conflict with HCPs, and about the NWFF program.

Personality disorder is defined in the DSM-IV as an enduring patter of impairment and distress in the following areas:

  1. Cognition (all-or-nothing thinking),
  2. Emotions (disproportionate responses),
  3. Interpersonal functioning (dysfunctional),
  4. Impulse control (extreme behaviours).

The NWFF program diverts HCPs out of the courtroom and into a 6 to 16 week program where they are taught the following skills:

  1. Flexible thinking,
  2. Managed emotions,
  3. Moderate behaviours,
  4. Checking yourself.

HCPs who have completed the NWFF program are much more likely to settle their parenting and custody disputes, instead of endlessly litigating.

For dealing with HCPs, Bill Eddy suggests that we follow the BIFF principle, that is, be Brief, Informational, Firm and Friendly in our communications. By using the BIFF principle, the communication will be effective and not be sidetracked by the HCP’s own personality.

To learn more, use these links:

Childhood Brain Development and Adult Personality Disorder.

Bill Eddy and His Work.

New Ways For Families.