Last week’s article Theresa Riggi Kills Her Children in Bitter Divorce Battle: Does She Have a Personality Disorder? asks the question what makes the unthinkable thinkable for some high-conflict people (HCPs) and/or some individuals with personality disorders? Why do some cross the line and commit murder, while others are content to perpetrate psychological violence like stalking, harassment, property destruction and parental alienation? How does the kind of woman who kills her children or husband (or gets someone else to do it for her) differ from your HCP wife, girlfriend or ex or your husband’s or boyfriend’s HCP ex?
Most high-conflict people or individuals with personality disorders aren’t violent and/or homicidal. However, I’d be willing to wager that women like Theresa Riggi, Susan Williams, Leisa Jones, Elaine Campione, Teresa Lewis and Clara Harris, for example, meet the criteria for being high-conflict people (HCP) and might also meet the criteria for full-blown personality disorders such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD), Paranoid Personality Disorder (PPD) or Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD). For simplicity’s sake, let’s refer to these individuals as HCPs (high-conflict people) with the caveat that not all HCPs become violent nor do all HCPs have personality disorders.
Why some HCPs slide down the slippery slope of emotional abuse to violence and murder:
1. HCPs are always right. No matter how egregiously vindictive and destructive her behavior, an HCP believes she’s right. She’s always right. If she trashes you to the kids, destroys your property, tries to get you fired and/or badmouths you with outrageous lies to anyone who will listen—you deserve it. In her warped mind, she probably sees herself as delivering some kind of twisted vigilante justice when she harms, smears, bullies and attacks others. You wronged her (probably just in her own mind), so you must pay.
2. No empathy or selective empathy. This allows the HCP to hurt others without batting an eye. She doesn’t seem to feel remorse for hurting people she’s splitting black (a person she sees as all bad), unless she’s confronted with her bad behavior by someone whom she wants to think well of her, then she feigns remorse. In which case, she’s remorseful about getting caught; not about whatever abusive, inappropriate or criminal thing she’s done.
Additionally, any admission of wrong-doing or remorse is usually followed with a BUT . . . (insert reason why her bad behavior is really someone else’s fault—usually the victim’s). This individual typically only has empathy for her own pain and for people whom she’s currently splitting white (a person she sees as all good).
3. It’s never her fault. It’s always someone else’s fault. As previously noted, the person she’s been victimizing typically gets blamed. “Yeah, I punched him, but his stupid nose got in the way of my fist, so it’s his own damned fault.” It’s not a stretch to see how someone like this could just as easily justify homicide.
“He was exposing MY children to his new whore and I’d rather MY children be with God.” Or, “He broke my heart. He made promises to me. He swore to be with me until death us do part. Now he knows how it feels. He deserved it.” Or, “I killed his children to punish him.” To this day, former socialite stay-at-home-mom Betty Broderick still feels no remorse for killing her ex-husband, Dan Broderick, and his second wife, Linda Kolkena, and blames her victims for their own murders despite the fact Betty broke into the couples’ home and shot them repeatedly while they slept.
4. People aren’t people. People are objects. Many HCPs don’t see others as individual human beings with feelings, needs and rights. We’re objects. We’re either good objects who make them feel good about themselves or we’re bad objects because we make them feel bad about themselves (splitting). We’re really bad objects when we complain about being treated badly by them.
Most HCPs can’t make the connection that it is their own behavior that elicits negative responses from others. They’re fine; everyone else is the problem. HCPs dehumanize most people to justify their bad behaviors—especially people they feel have wronged them in some way. Perhaps killing a husband has the same emotional and moral impact as squashing an ant to some HCPs. He had it coming because he wouldn’t let me have my way. Many HCPs view healthy boundaries and limits as abuse or an attempt to control them and will go on the attack when you implement parameters for their behavior.
5. The Perfect Storm. HCPs don’t handle rejection like most people. Specifically, most people don’t become vindictive stalkers or snap when they’re rejected or things don’t go their way. The fear of abandonment, the fear of ridicule, the fear of exposure and the fear of being ignored coupled with the propensity for narcissistic injury-narcissistic rage can be deadly.
An HCP doesn’t even need to experience real rejection to go off the deep end—any perceived criticism or slight, questions about her behavior or challenge to her control can cause her to go ballistic. Rejection or just the thought of “losing,” having her lies/delusions exposed or appearing foolish can cause a narcissistic injury, which then triggers white hot narcissistic rage. This is when an HCP is most dangerous.
6. Knowing the difference between right and wrong or “The rules don’t apply to me.” Many HCPs don’t seem to know the difference between right and wrong. Well, they believe they’re always right and everyone else is wrong, but it’s not really the same thing, is it? Many HCPs can judge the behavior of others to be right or wrong or immoral, but they don’t appear to be able to do the same with their own behavior. For example, “It was wrong for Joe to cheat on his wife because all men are lying, cheating scum, but I had my reasons for cheating on my husband. It’s my husband’s fault I cheated on him.”
7. Greed, entitlement, professional victimhood and public perception. Judging by the behavior of many HCPs, they seem to lack a moral compass and sense of personal responsibility when it comes to money. They think the world owes them a living (especially their ex-husbands). As for their children, many HCPs seem to see their kids as just another marital asset to be stripped from their husband, so they can do a victory lap around the courthouse parking lot.
Many HCPs see assets, and I include children in this, as trophies to be won to prove they’re right and their exes wrong. In other words, if she can get everything, including the kids and destroy her husband in the process by leaving him financially, physically and psychologically devastated, she believes the court and her friends and family will see her as the perfect, innocent victim and her husband as the nefarious SOB.
Based on the news stories of women who kill or attempt to kill their husbands and children, the decision to commit murder seems to occur the moment they realize they’re not going to get the outcome they want in court. Their reasoning seems to be, My husband can’t win custody if the children are dead. Or, I’ll get to keep the house and his pension if my husband is dead. Don’t forget, even when it’s blindingly obvious to almost everyone that the HCP is the aggressor; she still believes she’s the one who’s being victimized.
8. Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets. And she doesn’t care who gets hurt in the process. It’s just more of the same old-same old it’s all about meeeeeeeeeeeee! One wonders if the only thing that keeps some HCPs from crossing the line of lethality is the fear of getting caught, which is why some may enlist negative advocates to do their dirty work for them.
9. Negative advocates. A negative advocate (NA) can be even more impassioned about destroying the HCP’s target than the HCP herself (Bill Eddy writes about this in his books about HCPs). Oftentimes, the NA believes the HCP’s tale of victimhood and sees himself or herself as the HCP’s savior/avenger.
What does the HCP get from an NA? Having an NA go to bat for her probably hits a couple of HCP sweet spots. First, this type of individual loves getting others to do work for her that she could easily do for herself. Some HCPs have a lazy streak and see any kind of work as beneath them.
Second, it feeds her *C*O*N*T*R*O*L* needs. She gains a sense of power from pulling people’s strings—she is the Puppet Master and the NA is her wooden headed dummy. You see this with HCPs who are professional victims/waifs that get unwitting suckers to bully, mob and/or attack their targets for them. It’s also pretty crafty because if and when they get busted, they can say, “Hey, it wasn’t me, these other people did that,” which kinda makes them sneaky cowards.
What does an NA get out of championing an HCP? He or she feels like a powerful hero—especially if the HCP is love bombing the NA with adoration for coming to her “rescue.” In reality, most NAs are unwitting dupes. If and when the truth comes to light and the police get involved, the HCP will often throw the NA under the bus and claim that her former hero was abusing/controlling/victimizing her and the NA is then left holding the bag.
10. Their hard wiring is scrambled. Sorry, but reasonable, good people do not think it’s okay to destroy or kill others because they didn’t get their way, want to keep the house or are hurt/angry for whatever reason. In fact, most of the really nasty and destructive things HCPs perpetrate on their targets don’t even enter into the realm of possibility for the rest of us—or if they do, we don’t act on them and are embarrassed to admit we even had those kinds of thoughts in our darkest hours.
It’s beyond our comprehension, which is why we’re so gobsmacked and initially defenseless when attacked by HCPs. This is also why it doesn’t pay to try to do battle with them on their terms. You can’t out-think or out-crazy the crazy and malicious things they dream up on a 5-minute coffee break. The best thing we can do is to protect ourselves legally, document everything and keep a safe distance.
If you’re in a divorce and/or custody dispute with a woman or man whom you suspect is high-conflict or has high-conflict traits, take every precaution. Never underestimate their ability to cause long-lasting damage to you and the people you love.
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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.