In his excellent book It’s All Your Fault at Work (2015), Bill Eddy refers to five high conflict personality types that will most often show up in workplace disputes. Since you can’t evade them in the workplace, being aware of how they manifest allows you to appropriately react to them and find constructive ways to deal with them. As Eddy points out in Five Types of People Who Can Ruin Your Life(2018), these people are everywhere in society (even in the highest positions in business and government) and as the title of his book suggests, it’s important to know how to protect oneself from them because every day they are doing their best to ruin someone’s life.
High conflict personalities don’t think they have a problem, or are part of the problem. Therefore, they don’t see why they should change. They would rather look for a target to blame. They continually get into conflicts—and most people don’t know how to recognize them—but they may be all around you in private life and in the workplace. Here’s a quick reference on the various types of high conflict personalities.
The narcissist: Initially charming and exciting. Arrogant and preoccupied with themselves. Can be very manipulative, disdainful and demeaning of people around them (fear of being seen inferior)
The borderline (angry): Have extreme mood swings – act surprisingly friendly and loving one minute and angry and blaming the next (fear of abandonment)
The suspicious (paranoid): Are very fearful and suspecting that other people want to manipulate or hurt them (fear of being betrayed by those close to them)
The con artist (antisocial): The most dangerous. Likes to control and dominate. Does not care about the rules. Just wants to win at all cost and will do anything to get it. Chronic liars, lacking remorse. Highly manipulative, will convince others they are the victims (fear of being dominated by others)
The dramatic (histrionic): Overdramatic and very intense. They are attention seekers (will not let go of your attention once they have it). They can take a lot of your time because of their frequent overreactions to ordinary problem (fear of being ignored)
In my book From Fear to Freedom: Triumphing Over Abuse and Difficult Relationships, I explain and describe how I dealt with several of those toxic personality types at a very young age, what I learned from them, how I survived, and how eventually with professional training, research and in the extensive experience of my professional practice, I became an expert in the field of dealing with toxic and disruptive behaviors. And in addition to the five high conflict personality types above, there are two categories that it is wise to understand, the sociopath and psychopath.
The sociopath: Bill Eddy says in his article “Sociopaths and their Deceptions,” that sociopaths can also be extremely charismatic until they get what they want. He writes, “Sociopaths, also known as those with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), are some of the most dangerous and deceptive people you will ever know. Yet they also can be some of the most charming.” They lack all remorse and some enjoy humiliating and hurting others. Their theme is dominance and they are the perfect con artist.
The psychopathic personality: Here is how Sandra Brown describes psychopathic behavior: “Deceitful, pathologically-disordered, power mongrel, incapable of anything more than surface attachment and so brain-challenged they can’t love.” (SB p. 88) Psychopathy is not considered to be a personality disorder. It’s in the category of low/no conscience disorders (SB pp. 23-25). At least one out of 100 people in the United States has a form of psychopathy. It’s a severe silent pandemic that is not taken seriously enough by authorities. According to Brown, “The growing global pathology stands as one of the primary public mental health issues facing our world today simply because of the number of victims it will inevitably affect – because that’s what psychopathy ‘does’ (SB, p. 12) .” Cameron Reilly, author of The Psychopath Epidemic added to his work in August of 2021, saying “Some new research out of Spain suggests psychopaths might be more prevalent than we currently think.” The numbers it seems may be four to five times higher than previously thought.
Conclusion: The more aware you are, the less likely you’ll be at risk of being trapped in a web of other’s toxic behaviors. Being informed will help you to protect yourself, and I especially like the advice of Bill Eddy—to look for the warning signs of the five high-conflict personalities in others and in yourself. I help clients manage relationships with these five personalities in private life and in the workplace. And I make sure that my clients are well prepared to safely avoid or to end dangerous and stressful interactions with these high-conflict personalities. These people are not just difficult or hard to deal with, they can be extremely dangerous, as Bill Eddy points out as a warning to us all.
As we work and live in a world of complicated personalities, it is vital to be aware of those who may look charming or exciting while in pursuit of you and your attention. There are those who can and would ruin your life if given half a chance. And of course, you can’t spot what you’re not aware of!
Jocelyne Durand is a keynote speaker and consultant who provides exceptional one-on-one specialized coaching for individuals and also provides executive consulting. She regularly is called upon to provide private sessions for individuals who are dealing with difficult personalities in their private lives and in the workplace. In addition, she does corporate executive consulting and coaching to achieve greater harmony and balance with high level business talent. She offers an extensive executive program that often leads to higher levels of cooperation and success in the workplace. In the area of leadership, she offers specialized analysis and individualized personal or executive consulting, and serves as an executive coach for abrasive leaders.
 Bill Eddy, High Conflict Institute, https://www.highconflictinstitute.com/hci-articles/sociopaths-and-their-deceptions-by-bill-eddy-lcsw-esq
 Sandra L. Brown, Jennifer R. Young (2009-2018). Women Who Love Psychopaths, Mask Publishing
 Cameron Reilly, The Psychopath Epidemic (2020), Health Communications Inc.