Worldviews

High-Conflict Worldviews: Avoid Trouble Before it Starts

Have you ever noticed that some people view the world in a way that invites high-conflict and chaos? Recently, I was typing out a blog-post, when my cell phone rang. Although the call was from a blocked number, I decided to answer it anyway. A man with a heavy accent introduced himself and provided a professional sounding title. He explained that my computer’s IEP address had been stolen, and was being used for subversive activity that could be mistakenly traced back to me. This man assured me that he was here to help. He requested to walk me through a series of steps that would permanently disable my laptop, but protect me from being accused of a crime. He insisted that without his assistance, I could end up in a lot of trouble.

I replied with a simple, “no thank you,” and hung up my phone. A Google search quickly confirmed that this was a poorly executed scam.

The Art of the Scam

Although obviously a fraud, this swindler didn’t bungle things entirely. During our phone conversation, he was able to throw me off guard by,

  • Passing me off to someone claiming to be a supervisor, who confirmed the story.
  • Encourage me to verify his authenticity online. He then tried to quickly redirect me, so that I wouldn’t actually look up his phony title.
  • Providing a dramatic, fear-filled, story, and pressuring me to take action.

I’m curious what the end results would have been, had I fallen for this scam. One thing is clear, there are plenty of people who view the world far differently than I do.

Social-media does a wonderful job of combating stereotypes. There are plenty of articles and memes reminding us that being Muslim doesn’t make one a terrorist, and being diagnosed with a mental illness doesn’t make a person dangerous. While choosing not to stereotype others is good, there is also a need to learn how to recognize danger. As parents, we are responsible for teaching our children to identify potentially destructive people in their lives.

This post is all about maintaining a balanced perspective that is neither overly paranoid nor naive.

Identifying Harmful Worldviews

Eyeglasses come in different styles and varieties. Some are for reading, others shield us from the sun. Some lenses protect our eyes, and sometimes lenses get broken. Put on a different pair of glasses, and you will view the world slightly differently. [Tweet “Worldviews are like glasses, people observe events through a variety of different lenses.”]

One type of worldview promotes that, “People should be kind to each other, and help one another out.” Others–like the con artist on the phone–hold a worldview that proclaims, “Life is one big scam. Con others before they con you.” 

High-Conflict Worldviews

In this post, we will examine key warning signs of four, high-conflict worldviews. This way, when you, or your children, are approached by someone with a high-conflict personality, you will be less likely to get sucked into the chaos.

High-Conflict, Black-and-White Glasses

Those with black-and-white glasses view the world in extremes. People and situations are either all good, or all bad. There are no shades of grey. Black-and-white thinking, also known as splitting, is a key component of borderline personality disorder. Those with black-and-white glasses, may adore you one day, and hate you the next. As a result of this pattern of behavior, they have a long history of intense, short-lived relationships. If you find yourself connected to someone who vacillates between loving you and hating you–without being able to accept both your strengths and weaknesses–then you may be connected to someone with a black-and-white worldview.

high-conflict, worldview 2

High-Conflict, Mirrored Glasses

Mirrored glasses reflect one’s image. Those with a mirrored worldview, have difficulty empathizing with others. Everything is all about their achievements. A self-centered, lack of empathy, is a key feature of narcissistic personality disorder. When a person with mirrored glasses suffers a narcissistic injury–that is, whenever they feel slighted, or put down–you may find yourself the target of narcissistic rage. This rage can include:

  • An emotional outburst.
  • Covert emotional abuse.
  • And, sometimes reaches the point of physical abuse.

If you find yourself connected to someone who appears unable to demonstrate empathy, then you might be connected to someone with a high-conflict, mirrored, worldview.

high-conflict, worldview

High-Conflict, Sparkly Glasses

Sparkly glasses are attractive and stylish. They draw attention to the person who wears them. Those with high-conflict, sparkly glasses, must be the center of attention at all times. This is a key feature of histrionic personality disorder. If a person with this worldview fails to get the attention that he or she feels is deserved, you may find yourself a target of rage.

high-conflict, worldview

High-Conflict, Shattered Glasses

Glasses are fragile and sometimes break. Like shattered glasses, there are people who are broken internally. These people have no regard for the rules of society. Rules may be followed because of the fear of consequences, but respect for others is never internalized. Those with shattered glasses are good at putting on a show. They can be charming one day, and take advantage of your kindness the next. This is a key component of antisocial personality disorder. Those who hold this worldview, see people are a means to an end. Conning those close to them is a normal way of life.

high-conflict #3

Increasing High-Conflict Awareness

Please note, this is not an article on diagnosing. Not everyone who demonstrates these features has a full-blown personality disorder. Some do, while others simply have high-conflict, mal-adaptive ways of interacting with others. It’s also important to note that not everyone who has a personality disorder will be in high-conflict relationships. Some, direct their rage inward. Diagnosing is a complex process, that should only be left to the professionals.

Yet, there is a very real reason for this article. Ten years ago, I found myself caught up in a high-conflict relationship. I spent years spinning my wheels, thinking that I could fix things. Today, I understand just how ingrained a high-conflict personality can be. I’ve read numerous studies of people who invested money, time, and energy, attempting to resolve issues with a high-conflict loved one–driving themselves to the edge of insanity in the process.

Those who take a naive approach to life–always trusting, and believing the best in others–may be setting themselves up for longstanding challenges. Jesus said that you and I should know people by their fruit. Learning how to become a fruit inspector involves increasing our ability to identify high-conflict traits in others. It involves putting 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 into practice–testing everything and holding on to the good.

Helping Our Children Discern

I don’t want my children to go through life fearful of others. I also don’t want them to naively believe that everyone they meet has their best interest at heart. Instead, my desire is that they take a balanced approach by learning to recognize the high-conflict, warning signs. This way, they can make an intentional choice. They may choose to end their high-conflict relationship, or they might decide to put relational safeguards in place, to protect themselves from the conflict that is almost guaranteed to ensue.

If you are in a blended family, like us, keeping the peace can be an even bigger challenge. To dive deeper into strategies for avoiding high-conflict situations, check out Jenny’s thoughts on reducing stepparenting battles.

Continue the Conversation on High-Conflict Worldviews

In short, I hope to raise compassionate, caring children, who build their relationships with wisdom. What do you think? Have you ever come into contact with one of these high-conflict personalities? Are you preparing your children for managing relationships with difficult people? If so, I would love to continue our conversation in the comments below.

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Jed Jurchenko

Jed Jurchenko is the husband to an incredible wife, daddy to four amazing girls, and a foster dad to one more. He's served as a children's pastor, marriage and family therapist, psychology professor, award-winning writing coach, and life coach. Jed is the author of 23 books on relationships, parenting, writing, and doing life well. In his free time, you'll find Jed reading, preparing for an upcoming marathon, barbecuing, paddle boarding, and enjoying life with his incredible family. Find out more about Jed's books, coaching, and courses at www.ithrive320.com.

20 thoughts on “High-Conflict Worldviews: Avoid Trouble Before it Starts”

  1. Jed, your posts are thought-provoking. It’s only with the hindsight age brings that I have come to recognise a fundamental flaw within myself: I can’t fix the people in my life, nor should I try. It’s not my job!
    I’ve put in place coping mechanisms which sometimes work but at the end of the day, I think you have to be true to yourself and be the best person you can be. Having said that, it’s hard to ignore the negative vibes of others. without feeling hurt.

    1. Thanks Gina,

      That’s such a great point. Hindsight and age are also what it took for me to realize that I cannot make others happy, and similarly, I’m also learning that this is not my job. I’m hoping that my kiddos will discover these lessons earlier and easier than I did.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It’s nice knowing that others are growing in these areas too. It makes my own journey feel more normal.

  2. This is very thoughtful. I read through the entire points you made on this post. We can’t shield our kids from the reality of this dark world but as you say we can arm them with wisdom and build them to be people of quality character.
    That’s my reflection.
    God Bless Jed

  3. Jed,

    This is a good overview of personality types that tend to provoke conflict. I’ve run into each type, both in my work as a counselor and outside of my work. The value in understanding the traits of each of these types is that we can observe our own behavior to monitor whether or not we’re getting sucked into a person’s dysfunctional ways of relating. When we realize we’ve been sucked in, we can step back, approach the relationship differently, and set healthy boundaries for ourselves.

    For example, I’ve often encountered the narcissistic type. They tend to end up in leadership positions. I’ve burned myself out and experienced high levels of stress trying to meet narcissistic expectations to avoid conflict. When I learned it was inevitable that I would disappoint them, I learned to rely on humility to keep me balanced. The temptation is to defend yourself by proving to the narcissistic type that they are wrong. But that’s virtually impossible, unless you can do it in such a way that they save face and don’t have to admit their error.

    When my daughter entered her teen years and started experiencing these types of personality conflicts with her peers, I began talking with her about how to relate to each type. In relationships with each type of personality, we need to know our weaknesses, recognize that those weaknesses might be exploited, and pivot to our strengths to keep us in a healthy space.

    1. Hey Jon,

      These are excellent, real-life, applications. It’s awesome to hear that you’re already taught your daughter about these personality types. I’m still a few years away from having more serious conversation with my girls, as they are still pretty young. Right now I’m keeping everything basic, with simple reminders to cheer others on, share successes with the team, and casual conversations about the importance of empathizing with others.

      However, I’d love to start preparing early. Is there anything in your conversations that has worked especially well? I’m about four years away from the teen years, and in my mind, it’s never too early to start thinking about this. Thanks again for the excellent stories of how to put this information to good use!

      1. It seems to work best when there’s a real-life situation that’s come up with one of her friends. I ask her to tell me what’s been going on. Active listening is good here.

        I’ll ask questions to get more info. For example, “Has this happened before?” “Does your friend do this with other friends?” to see if there’s a pattern of behavior. I’ll also ask about her behavior and try to do it in a non-judgmental way. I want to know if she’s contributed to the conflict and how.

        When I think I understand the situation, then I’ll share my experience with similar personalities, what usually works and what hasn’t worked. Then I’ll ask her what she wants to do to deal with the situation. I may coach her at that point, to help her polish her strategy.

        After she’s put the strategy in action, I follow up to see how things are going, and offer additional coaching and counsel if she’s open to it.

        1. Thanks Jon,

          This is such great wisdom. I know that active listening, asking questions, and truly seeking to understand the other persons perspective, is one of the best ways to support others. It’s also such a great way to facilitate learning and growth. Yet, it’s so much easier for me to do this with others, than with my own kiddos.

          I can see myself as being a parent who wants to help so badly that he is too quick to jump in and offer solutions. I want to be a dad who seeks to understand and support first. Of course, I think this is going to be easier said than done–I’m already recognizing a few instances where I am too slow to listen and too quick to offer advice. So thank you for reminding me of the value of this 🙂

        2. Jon, you hit on something really important here. It’s tempting to always 100% defend or “side with” the people we love when they experience conflict, and to assume that the other person was wrong. However, many times, our loved ones (and we ourselves) do contribute to the problem, whether by our reactions, our approval or tolerance of bad behavior, telling too many others about the incident (i.e., gossiping), etc. And it’s always a good idea to assess what part, if any, we have in conflict, as well as making changes in those areas.

          1. Erik, Yes, my kids are infused with my DNA, so I know there’s a good chance they might contribute to some of their relationship problems. I can wish it wasn’t true, but we know that doesn’t help anyone.

  4. Hey Jed,

    What an interesting article! I love the visuals of the glasses and the names of the groups!

    There’s an older book by Gordon McDonald where he talks about types of people. He called them VDPs, VIPs, and a few others that I can’t remember. VDPs are very draining people, and you know VIPs. Interestingly, he encourages people to be careful how many Very Draining People you all in your close circle.

    Sounds a little like your types of worldviews.

    Thanks for sharing a thought-provoking article. And, thanks for being good to like, comment, and encourage me in my ministry.

    Appreciate you~
    Melanie

  5. jacquelinegwallace

    Jed, I appreciate your down to earth, practical approach to this topic. We all meet most of these people as we go through life and it is good to understand, even a little, where they are coming from. My tendency is to get emotionally involved and then get hurt (my mom wisely spoke to that when I was a teen; it was a revelation to me but made sense!). When we become aware of these character traits in others, we are then prepared to be wise in how we deal with them. It can save a world of hurt,
    Thanks for posting.

    1. Thanks Jacquline,

      I think not getting emotionally involved, and not taking the conflict personally, are the most difficult parts. This is one of the greatest challenges for me too. Slowly but surly, our family is learning how to set healthy boundaries around conflict–but it has definitely been a process.

  6. I have run into some of these personalities and so have my kids. It definitely opened the door for constructive conversation. The breakdown you provide would have been helpful to refer to. I’ll be prepared for the next time this comes up!

  7. Jed, thanks for helping put words and visuals to this! My kids are grown, so I’m reflecting from a different perspective than teaching these to my children.

    In full time ministry, we expect to encounter these personalities among those we serve. I remember though how taken by surprise my wife and I were coming across such different and sometimes conflicting personalities, including some of these you wrote about among our co-workers! This article does help to think about those with whom we’re serving and laboring with.

    1. Thanks Gene,

      That is such an great point. Yes, even Christian’s struggle with difficult personality traits. This is especially important to remember, because it can be easy to take a naive approach, and be caught off guard at church.

      Your addition is a good reminder that Christ-followers are in a process of transformation, and for some, this process of growth will be more difficult, than for others. The bottom line is that churches are an awesome place for friendships, and growth. However, if we take a naive approach–believing that everyone, always has our best interest at heart–we will be in for a rude awaking.

      Even in ministry, relationship wisdom is needed. Thanks again for bringing this up!

  8. One thought here (and particularly sparked by your comments, Gina and Jacqueline) …

    I do understand being hurt by people with various personality dysfunction, taking it personally. But it occurred to me in my own life that the power to hurt does not lie within the other person, whomever they may be. For instance, visualize a person in your own life who has hurt you with something they said. Now, if that person said the exact same thing to me, do you think I would be hurt or take it personally? Or imagine that you are in a nursing home and an old man with dementia approached you and said exactly the same words to you that this person you are visualizing said to you, the words that hurt you so much. Would you be hurt when the same words, with the same mood, were hurled at you by the man in the nursing home?

    In each of these examples, the obvious answer is “No.” Logically, then, the power to hurt us does not lie in a a PERSON or in the WORDS. Where does it lie, then? It lies within ourselves.

    It helped me greatly, with regard to my father, to view him much as I view the old man in the nursing home. He has a whole lifetime behind him, much of which I wasn’t part of, due to not yet having been born. All of his past affected him, before I ever came along. In other words, he was who he was before I came into the picture. He just “did what he does because of his past” to me, as well, when I came along. It doesn’t excuse it, but it explains it. And, as an adult, it helps me to distance myself from the hurtfulness of the person, the behaviors, the words. Even if someone is not senile or has not been officially diagnosed with a mental disorder (often because they will not submit to such assessment), their past – independently of our existence – has damaged them. This mindset helped me to have compassion, while at the same time setting emotional and interpersonal boundaries.

    1. Erik,

      What a great strategy for setting physical and emotional boundaries, in a compassionate way. I heard John Maxwell say, “Hurt people, hurt people. And are easily hurt by others.” It’s so true.Those with a pattern of hurting others, almost always have their own history of pain and trauma. You do such an excellent job of showing that we don’t need to allow remarks from hurtful people to sink in, and that limits can be set with kindness.

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