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Adapting & Setting Limits

“Our gut feelings are often the first to tell us there is a problem with someone’s behavior. Pay attention to your own gut when you’re in someone’s presence, or when you think about them.”

― Bill Eddy, from 5 Types of People Who Can Ruin Your Life: Identifying and Dealing with Narcissists, Sociopaths, and Other High-Conflict Personalities

Have you ever encountered a person in your life who you couldn’t reason with the same way you could with so many others in your life? Are there some folks that make you act differently, or feel like you walk on eggshells around them? 

Whether it’s a co-founder, neighbor, employee, future hire, potential suitor or a current partner, co-worker, friend, parent, or ‘that one relative,’ odds are good that at some point in your relational life you’ll encounter a high conflict personality. Knowing those odds, it’s good to have the psychological awareness to know who these folks are and how they work so that you can relate to them in a way that is clear and kind (for both them and you). 

In today’s podcast conversation, Megan Hunter, co-founder of The High Conflict Institute, helps us understand these High Conflict Personalities (also known as HCPs), gives us insight into how the HCP operating system works, and shares tools and approaches to adapt ourselves to them when we realize that we have one in our life. 

There’s a reasonable 90% of folks in the world with self-awareness, and then there’s the ~ 10% or so with a different operating system. Literally: the folks in this group have brains that work differently. 

I learned about the work at the High Conflict Institute when a close friend of mine was going through a rough divorce. Her lawyer handed her a copy of Bill Eddy’s book, Biff: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, Their Hostile Emails, Personal Attacks and Social Media Meltdowns, which made all the difference in how she approached negotiations and highly triggering correspondences. Since then, I’ve recommended this book to many clients dealing with high conflict personalities at work, at home, and in their communities. I’ve even given a copy to the woman who cuts my hair.  

Without the knowledge of how these personalities operate, you will be less able to adapt yourself when an HCP situation arrives in your relational life, and navigating a crazy-making relationship with one of them will be incredibly difficult. For those of us with codependent tendencies or folks who have trouble establishing boundaries, HCPs can be especially challenging. And, if the HCP is a partner, parent or family member, these relationships are especially heartbreaking. For some of us as we move through life, learning that “no” is a complete sentence is a big lesson to learn. Yet, if you choose to have relationships with HCPs, setting limits and putting boundaries in place is a keystone behavior in order to keep your sense of self intact.

In this conversation, we talk about the five types of HCPs, how 90% of the people you meet you can trust, how the HCP brain works differently and what that means for interactions with them, what to do if you find yourself as a Target of Blame, how to arm yourself with knowledge and tools to use with these personalities, as well as what not to do. 

For more on two of the tools we talk about in this podcast, check out these posts from the High Conflict Institute. 

  1. Using Empathy, Attention, and Respect (EAR) to Calm Current Conflicts
  2. How to Write A BIFF Response 


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