Can you trust the person you're dating? The new employee at work? Your investment adviser? You have to decide—often in seconds—based on very little information. As both a therapist and a lawyer, I've spent a lot of time learning how to read people. Here's the good news: You can trust 80 to 90 percent of people to be who they say they are, to do what they say they'll do, and to follow most of the social rules that help us live together.

Now, the bad news: There are people who can ruin your life. They will destroy your reputation, your self-esteem or your career. These folks make up about 10 percent of humanity—1 person in 10. In North America, that's more than 35 million people. Each of these people has an extreme version of what I call a high-conflict personality (HCP). Most of us try to resolve or defuse conflicts, but people with high-conflict personalities compulsively escalate disagreements. They usually do this by focusing on targets of blame, whom they mercilessly attack—verbally, emotionally, financially, litigiously and sometimes violently—often for months or years, even if the initial conflict was minor.

We are going to look at one particular kind of HCP: The Love You, Hate You Type. Maybe you know someone who's extremely charming, friendly and reasonable one minute, and the next minute, they're screaming and attacking you. The speed with which they turn on you is breathtaking. What did I do? you may ask yourself. How can I get out of here?

You may be dealing with a borderline HCP—someone whose high-conflict personality is combined with borderline personality disorder, a condition that's marked by impulsivity and mood swings. Some borderline HCPs are intense from the start: angry and demanding. But most initially present themselves as extremely friendly, energetic, lovable and possibly seductive. It can be surprising how quickly a borderline HCP wants to get close to you. He or she lacks ordinary boundaries, even in a casual friendship or as a co-worker. It's this fast intimacy that often hints at the intensity that an HCP can bring to a relationship—and to ending that relationship.

If you suspect someone you're involved with may be a borderline HCP, look for these signs:

All-or-Nothing Language
HCPs tend to make statements like "People always abandon me." Or: "People always take advantage of me, but now I'm sticking up for myself and fighting back." This is a particularly seductive statement. It reframes their conflicts to draw you to their side, because you believe they are finally being strong after a lifetime of abuse. Later, you realize that they have always been strong and possibly abusive themselves—they just feel like a victim. Even I have been hooked several times by statements like this.

Emotional Intensity
At first, you may feel excited that this person likes you so much without restraint. It's often not until you have a major conflict that you find out how intensely negative they can be. Before you get to that point, you might begin to feel that the relationship is overwhelming you or moving too quickly for you. You might also feel that your boundaries aren't being respected, even when you have stated them openly. And you might be uncomfortable when this person wants you to show loyalty by always taking their side in an argument.

Years ago, a friend told me about her second date with a man she liked. He suddenly reacted negatively to something she said and lightly slapped her on the butt. She was surprised and said to him, "What was that about?" He said it was nothing. Aside from that, he seemed like a nice guy. I asked her if 90 percent of men she knew would ever do that on a second date, and she realized that they wouldn't. And when he said it was nothing, rather than saying it was accidental or apologizing to her, it was a warning sign. In fact, that's a common dynamic with HCPs of all types: They engage in an aggressive act, then deny it was aggressive. That's a danger sign right there, and you'll want to proceed with caution.

Adapted from 5 Types of People Who Can Ruin Your Life: Identifying and Dealing with Narcissists, Sociopaths, and Other High-Conflict Personalities, by arrangement with TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2018, Bill Eddy.


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