Modern Family Matters

Strategies to Break the Cycle of Reaction When Divorcing a High-Conflict Personality

August 23, 2022 with Barbara La Pointe Season 1 Episode 65
Modern Family Matters
Strategies to Break the Cycle of Reaction When Divorcing a High-Conflict Personality
Show Notes Transcript

Join us as we sit down with High Conflict and Divorce Relationship Coach, Barbara La Pointe Coaching LLC, to talk through skills and strategies to help de-escalate difficult interactions when divorcing a high-conflict ex.

If you would like to speak with one of our family law attorneys, please call our office at (503) 227-0200, or visit our website at

If you would like to seek out additional coaching support from Barbara as you navigate your separation or divorce, you can contact her via her website:

Disclaimer: Nothing in this communication is intended to provide legal advice nor does it constitute a client-attorney relationship, therefore you should not interpret the contents as such.

Welcome to Modern Family Matters, a podcast devoted to exploring family law topics that matter most to you. Covering a wide range of legal, personal, and family law matters, with expert analysis from skilled attorneys and professional guests, we hope that our podcast provides answers, clarity, and guidance towards a better tomorrow for you and your family. Here's your host, Steve Altishin.

Steve Altishin 
Hi, everyone. I'm Steve Altishin, Director of Client Partnerships here at Pacific Legal, and today we have High Conflict and Divorce Relationship Coach, Barbara La Pointe, to talk about strategies to break the cycle of reaction when divorcing a high conflict personality. That's a lot to unpack. So Barbara, before we get started in, how're you doing today?

Barbara La Pointe  0:55  
I'm fantastic. Honored to be here with you. Nice to see you Steve.

Steve Altishin  1:00  
Oh, it's nice to see you again too. Before we get started in with questions, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Barbara La Pointe  1:06  
I'd love to. I'm a solution-focused divorce coach with training in NLP and inherited family trauma. I live in beautiful Calgary, Alberta, and I coach women all over the world, from a broken state, to becoming empowered and whole and complete, and really living in their truth, often after very destructive divorces.

Steve Altishin  1:37  
I'm really fascinated by this and looking forward to our conversation today. And, you know, because it's funny, as attorneys, we hear the term high conflict personality, and narcissist, in a lot of divorce cases from our clients. But what do these terms really actually mean?

Barbara La Pointe  2:01  
Yeah, it's a fun topic, because there's a lot of information about it. And it's really something that's also come into the collective consciousness of everyone. Everyone kind of knows now what a narcissist is. But it's nice to nail it down to what it is. So today, we'll mostly be referencing the more extreme cases that show up in family law cases, more extreme narcissists. But keeping in mind, always, that it's a label, and that it's a spectrum. High conflict, let's define that to start, sound good? 

Steve Altishin  2:42  

Barbara La Pointe  2:42  
Yeah, because we're noticing high conflict personalities in the world, statistically, on the rise, you know, it could be from social media, could be from popular culture, could be from a lot of different things, Steve, but they're on the rise. So we know that we're going to meet a high conflict personality, certainly in our lifetime. Some modest statistics say that one in 25 people are a high conflict personality or HCP. So you're going to run into one in the workplace, at grocery mart, hopefully not in your family law case. Because if you do, they're going to wreak havoc in your family law case. So back to the definition of high conflict, so we can set the stage. High conflict behavior, a high conflict personality, has a long and enduring pattern of escalating conflict, creating conflict, getting fueled or liking conflict, rather than an enduring pattern of behavior that resolves conflict or brings to the table constructive conflict resolution. We're not seeing that. So in family law cases, that can mean a long pattern of escalating conflict, which is costly emotionally, and costly financially.

Steve Altishin  4:13  
Oh, I hear you on that one. So narcissist, and you I know you use the term narcissist a lot, or not a lot, but some, is that necessarily a high conflict person? Or is that another personality to deal with?

Barbara La Pointe  4:30  
Yeah, that's like a tricky rabbit hole to go down because I'm not a lawyer, and I'm not a psychologist, but we can all kind of agree that they're on a basic level, because we see them and experience and there are narcissists out there. There's all kinds of different kinds of narcissist's, but there are some overarching qualities of narcissists, which are high conflict personalities, that we can probably likely all agree on. A lot of the information I'm going to be bringing to our conversation today, Steve, is from the High Conflict Institute in Southern California, which to me is the gold standard of understanding these HCPs, or high conflict personalities, of understanding the narcissist, which the High Conflict Institute founder, Bill Eddie, calls the arrogant players of divorce, and they are. These overarching qualities of narcissists and HCPs are identifiable. They're red flags, and we can all agree on those maybe outline, if you'd like.

Steve Altishin  5:37  
So in a divorce, how do these personalities sort of play out? How does it manifest itself? And what are the dangers of having one of them in a divorce?

Barbara La Pointe  5:51  
Yeah, that's the thing that probably most people don't realize that they're heading for this high impact collision, because oftentimes as women, we'll feel like things are gonna get better once I decide and I file for divorce, things are gonna get better for me. But with narcissists, they get worse, they get far worse, and post legal, abuse and the conflict is actually intensified. One fun study that was done is that there was a measurement of narcissists heart rate during conflict, and their heart rate actually slows down because they enjoy it. It doesn't, you know, like if I was in conflict, or you, our heart rate would speed up, our nervous system would kick into gear, we go into fight or flight, but their heart rate actually slows down. So it's a place of comfort for them. It fuels them in a different way than it would fuel us, and sadly-- isn't that interesting?

Steve Altishin  6:55  
That is really interesting.

Barbara La Pointe  6:57  
And it kind of makes the playing field unfair from the beginning, in my view, because they are already skilled players. They're already the skilled, arrogant players of divorce. And divorce doesn't turn into what Stephen R Covey would describe as like a "win-win". It becomes a win-lose, anger and revenge. And that's  one of the one traits that all narcissist's have, which is the all or none thinking.

Steve Altishin  7:29  
Yeah, yeah. I imagine the kids, if there are kids in a particular divorce case, they have to get caught up in this somehow.

Barbara La Pointe  7:41  
You know, one thing that I always find surprising, it is a little bit commonplace for family law professionals and many professionals to say, well, the kids don't need to hear about that. And we don't speak about that. But when you look at families as a system, family tree, a system of love, the orders of love of energy, a connectedness, I mean, it seems silly to me that their children aren't going to feel it, and they are impacted. They're deeply, deeply impacted. Because for the narcissist-- who's arrogant, lacks empathy, to me, that's the most important quality, lacks empathy for their children-- children are viewed as just an extension of themselves. Often narcissists will take credit for work that's not their own, including parenting work. Narcissist's cannot co-parent. So that is a big negative impact on kids and stressed out moms. So sometimes on social media, we hear counter-parenting, and I would almost call it conflict parenting. So imagine doing conflict parenting through time...that is very unpleasant and has impacts that will last with children for who knows how long, for years, for generations.

Steve Altishin  9:13  
Yeah, I imagine the the woman who is experiencing this and trying to co-parent, this doesn't end when the divorce decree is signed. I mean, there's got to be, you know, throughout their whole lives, maybe a negative impact that can occur.

Barbara La Pointe  9:34  
Yeah, I mean, I would say if you really want to do a positive shift to divorcing a narcissist, or dealing with an HCP through time, especially in family law, which is inherently, there's so many beautiful Collaborative Law Offices, but sometimes it's inherently adversarial. It's really a way to lean into your humanity, to learn strategies, strategies to communicate. Because at the end of the day, you can only create healing and renewing patterns for yourself, you can only focus on transforming yourself. So as a more real life example, I had to learn new ways to communicate with my high conflict ex and his high conflict lawyer.

Steve Altishin  10:22  
That's a combination, let me tell you.

Barbara La Pointe  10:24  
And it's really statistical, and it's mentioned at the High Conflict Institute of Southern California, that this is evidence based, it's not a hyperbole. It's not saying Oh, my ex got a high conflict lawyer-- like attracts like, and if you like conflict, you're gonna find a high conflict lawyer, and that kind of just adds fuel to a fire.

Steve Altishin  10:49  
Oh my gosh. So what can we do? I mean, how can they can heal, like you're saying, and how can they take their power back?

Barbara La Pointe  11:00  
That was such a profound question. Thank you for that question, Steve. I mean, it's a journey, because the narcissist will respond to conflict in a family law case in a power assertive way. So no win win, no collaboration, inflexible thinking, all or nothing thinking. So that black and white thinking, anger, revenge, all or nothing thinking makes it really hard to come to the table and mediate out an agreement where everybody wins. All or nothing thinking is like, Hi, I'd like to go on a trip to Hawaii with my daughter. And and they say, Sure, I'd like to remove all your custodial rights. That's something I personally went through, over and over and over again, for now I'm approaching over eight years, right? So this kind of chips away, of course, at a person, some self esteem, confidence, nervous system, emotional regulation is affected. And hey, come on, we're already a little vulnerable when we go to file for divorce anyways, wouldn't you agree? 

Steve Altishin  12:12  
Yeah. Yeah, that's exactly right. 

Barbara La Pointe  12:15  
And that's why I'm passionate about helping women that receive these injuries of narcissistic abuse, because it's through time, like to be abused through time, five years, three years, seven years, is a long time. So the call to healing is quite a profound journey. But we can begin with working on our communication strategies and recognizing that these narcs come to the table with a high conflict energy, conflict language, and patterns that they've had their entire life. Interesting side note that you'll love, Steve, is that they often don't change. So almost never, these personalities really don't change. And even if they go to counseling or therapy, first of all, they probably wouldn't because they're arrogant, and so they don't think anything's wrong with them. They're also persuasive blame shifters. Well, that's your fault. No, I won't bring a solution. No, that's on you. They're just busy creating problems. So they're not ones to go, I think I'll head down and book in for some cognitive behavioral therapy. Right? They're not going to do that. Even if they did, it would take statistically five years of comprehensive therapy, before we would begin to see minor successful changes in their behavioral patterns. So if you're waiting for them to change, they can't, you have to change. 

Steve Altishin  13:50  
Yep, that's what I was just thinking, you know, and where you're heading is that, you know, we get a lot of clients as lawyers where the client is trying to do their best, and they have a high conflict person out there. And they just are continually astounded, surprised, can't believe that a person acts this way. And that's why I kind of liked when you said, you start to recognize it. So when it's no longer a surprise to you, I think that it's kind of a first way to start getting some of these skills. And so how can, what are some of the skills that folks need when dealing with a high conflict personality? 

Barbara La Pointe  14:36  
Yeah, thank you for that relevant and insightful question. I mean, in a relationship where you don't have kids or you're not involved in a family law case, often people say well go gray rock, just never have contact with them again. And oftentimes, we can't do that. If we're in a family law case, or we have children with them, that's not possible. So one strategy that I've used myself for many years, and women can perfect this through time and master it is bringing in the BIFF strategy. BIFF. And that's an acronym, Steve, for creating responses that are brief, informative, firm and friendly. So let's back up. If narcissists are using a language that's attacking, insulting, or demeaning, not consistent, not based in conflict resolution, no one wins, lies, manipulative. I mean, how do you feel? How would you feel?

Steve Altishin  15:45  
Terrible! I mean, you get to where you don't know what to do a lot. You know, you're like, What do I do? Do I strike back harder? It sounds like what you're saying is that just feeds them.

Barbara La Pointe  15:58  
Exactly, you're reading my mind, because it's like this, like, it feeds them. And when we call it "feeds them", it's a narcissistic supply, and it just keeps the loop going. It keeps the chain of reaction going. And it keeps the conflict going. And we might not even be conscious of that. We might be going, thinking we want this conflict to end. But the other person doesn't want the conflict to end. So someone might say, Well, why don't you just walk away? Well, you can't walk away from these people. And you can't walk away from family law cases. So you have to, you have to go through the storm to get out. And one of the first things I would say was changing your communication strategies to BIFF strategies: brief, informative, firm and friendly. When we're feeling attacked, when we're taking it personally, when we feel wounded, when we feel like it's affecting our identity, when the lies and insults hurt, the manipulation is working. And sidebar, they're really good at, again, manipulating professionals, because a lot of judges--oftentimes judges, and this is changing and Family Lawyers don't have the training for recognizing sociopath, narcissist, high conflict people. Some lawyers also though, get energized by them because it's easy to win their case because oftentimes, ironically, narcissists are charming, charismatic, well put together, operate well under conflict or pressure, you know?

Steve Altishin  17:35  
Yeah, I got a question. BIFF, I really liked that. So much, a lot of stuff is done by email now, obviously, especially co-parenting issues, and you know, even in the divorce. And so, I'm assuming that, or maybe tell me if this is right, you know, I fire back in email, or I get a terrible email, you know, just flaming email, and I start to write something back... how do I not hit the button?

Barbara La Pointe  18:18  
Yeah, so this is like the ultimate call to regulating your own emotions. Because you're emotionally charged, and it's triggering, you're emotionally triggered. And the trick is not to take it personally and see it for what it is. Because the narcissist would do this to his ex wife or his girlfriend, or his mother, even, if the mother and the girlfriend were different people, you know, that is to say they would do it to anyone, any person, it's not personal. So using this neutral, emotionally discharged language of the BIFF strategy, is really an empowerment, in my view, for women, because you can use them anywhere. And it's not saying Well, Steve, this isn't true. That's not true. How could you say this? Why are you lying? Why are you saying I'm an unfit parent? Why won't you let our daughter go to here? It's just like editing it down to brief, informative, firm and friendly, and the trick to that is waiting 24 hours, 48 hours if you can, before you put your fingers on the keyboard.

Steve Altishin  19:36  
Yeah, no, I love that. It's kind of like that, you respond, you don't react.

Barbara La Pointe  19:42  
And so it's self discipline, it's a mastery through time. And also, you know, if you have a coach, a new ways for families coach or someone you trust, you can work on it. Practice these new ways for families statements, these big strategies, until you perfect it because you'll have to use it always. And I always like to add on this a little extra is if you can find a lawyer, family lawyer that also uses BIFF strategies, all the better. The sooner you implement these strategies, the better your outcomes are moving forward.

Steve Altishin  20:19  
And that's funny you say that. I mean, our attorneys here, one of their sort of mantras is not just for themselves, but for their clients is, you know, don't fire back an email. And even if you type one that's, you know, what you want to say, sit on it.

Barbara La Pointe  20:45  
Or send it to your divorce coach, draft it, mail it to, you know, the cat down the street, but don't hit that send button. And that, you know, a lot of times narcissists most often are coupled with empathetic people, emotional people, soulful people, because they lack empathy. So they've got to get their nerve supply from somewhere. So it is an emotional journey, but it's learning how to ground yourself and regulate yourself so that those reactive emotions aren't driving your behaviors through time. 

Steve Altishin  21:24  
Right. It's kind of like, in football, the offense tries to dupe you into maybe, you know, rushing too fast. Or here's an opening, go get it, go get the quarterback, but they really know that's going to come. And they take advantage of that and score a touchdown. And this is sort of that same thing, they're trying to almost trick you into this, because they know that then now, they're the people on top.

Barbara La Pointe  21:56  
Yeah, and they're just loving it, they're just pushing your buttons, triggering you, they know your trigger points, you're traumatized already, you're getting then re-traumatized when they get that touchdown. And then you recreate the loop and make the same mistakes over and over again. Emotionally, we call it like a limbic loop, where we're just emotionally reacting until we can step back, and start to understand what's going on. Becoming into our own power, seeking out the support of a divorce coach, a counselor, a psychologist, becoming more mindful, rather than leaking our energy out to these conflicts that draw us in, that trigger us, that trick us. If we can learn these skills of mindfulness, communication strategy of BIFF, making effective communication strategies, like saying, I request this and I request a response within 48 hours, putting that timeline on it, and not getting drawn in. So it really it comes down to emotional regulation ourselves.

Steve Altishin  23:04  
Right, right. So this is a skill, like you're saying, This isn't just a, I'm going to make a promise to myself to do it. This is a learned skill.

Barbara La Pointe  23:14  
It is a learned skill. And that's hopeful because everyone can learn it. And the sooner you understand that, especially in family law cases, it will save you so much energy, so much time, so much money, and you'll get better outcomes in terms of court orders. Because the narcissist is really good at eroding your credibility to the point where you might start-- in common culture, we call it gaslighting, right--but we might start questioning ourselves. Am I a narcissist? Am I a bad parent? Right? And so you've got to rebuild and reinvest in your own self esteem bank, in your own energies in yourself, bring the focus back to yourself so that you're playing the The Art of Peace, not the Art of War. Right?

Steve Altishin  24:05  
That's a great line. The the importance of like, in these situations, a coach, I'm really glad you brought that up. And that kind of leads to, you know, what you do is help people who do this. And I know that when we talked before, you had talked about this new ways for families methodology? Is that one of the systems that you can use, or what is that?

Barbara La Pointe  24:34  
Yeah, well, new ways for families is from a program for families, parents going through a divorce that teaches you new ways for dealing with these old problems of high conflict personalities. So we work through the BIFF strategy and you can practice that with me as your coach until you perfect it. It's teaching you all the red flags, helping you to identify, because oftentimes when we have a high conflict personality in our lives, we don't just have one. We either go out and attract another one or engage with another one, or we have them in our history, we have them in our family tree, right? So it helps us to understand, in a more comprehensive way, how we can be solution focused with these folks that create conflict for fun. 

Steve Altishin  25:28  
Yeah, I love, you know, the idea of being able to recognize a red flag, because you know, the BIFF is about responding. But a lot of times, it feels like people don't even recognize that this is a red flag that they're getting themselves into.

Barbara La Pointe  25:53  
Yeah, that's the most powerful thing if we can recognize the red flags and avoid ever meeting one, because the easiest way is when you see a narcissist in the workplace or in divorce, is to slowly back away once you recognize the red flags of the personality, and not allow yourself to get in a position of vulnerability where they put a target on your back and blame you, create a smear campaign about you, drive your family law bills up, up, up, emotionally damaged you, victimized you, right? So you've got to remove the target from your back and get back into your power. And that's process through time. But a coach can really help you, new ways for families is phenomenal, high conflict Institute is a phenomenal, relevant resource, but you need the emotional support. Because, you know, you don't want to go into your family lawyer and and just start crying or complaining. You want to go in there collected and regulated.

Steve Altishin  27:01  
I love that. I love that. And you talk about emotional, spiritual healing, you know, personal empowerment. And you you you get that from your history. I know you wrote a book about all this, about your kind of journey. Do you mind telling us a little bit about maybe your story and how this weaves into what we're talking about today?

Barbara La Pointe  27:27  
Yeah, I'd love to. So I'm the hero of my own story. I went through a high conflict divorce for over five years that escalated into a high conflict custody battle. My ex spouse has spent about $30,000 a month trying to smear campaign me through affidavits filed to have all my parenting rights removed including religion, custody, parenting time for my daughter. This all with a background of me being a full time stay at home mom and when I was a teacher for vulnerable children. So it was really like all or nothing thinking, it was really expensive. A lot of times I didn't even have money for our lives because it was going to sustain my family law defense. And it was shocking. It was shell shocking. I felt victimized. I felt really victimized. I felt broke, inside and out. It was awful. I didn't even know what a narcissist was until I read Bill Eddy's book, Five Personalities That Can Ruin Your Life, and that is a groundbreaking book that changed my life. And it allowed me to start saying okay, his personality isn't going to change. How can I stop supplying narcissistic supply? How can I use the best strategy? And that started a lasting transformation for me that's still going on, the healing renewing cycles never stopped. But through time I did write an e-book called Erased By a Narcissist: One Woman's Journey to Divorcing a High Conflict Personality, and it's packed full of tips to save you time on the minefields that come up when you deal with individuals that love to create conflict instead of resolving conflict.

Steve Altishin  29:17  
Yeah, I love this. I love this stuff. We're about to end this because unfortunately, 30 minutes just ran by. I would love you to let people know how they can get your book. And you are, like you said, a Relationship Divorce Coach. How they can get a hold of you if they would like to talk about using your services?

Barbara La Pointe  29:43  
Thanks Steve! Well, has a lot of free resources and free downloadable PDFs about mindfulness healing, and the free ebook about narcissism, so I'd go there. I do really fun helpful healing videos on Tiktok and I have a YouTube channel as well. So I'm very active on social media and I answer people's questions in real time.

Steve Altishin  30:10  
I love it. Well, thank you again so much for being here, bringing really a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge to talk about dealing with high conflict personalities, narsissists, all of those kinds of just destructive states when you're trying to go through a divorce and, you know, kind of breaking that cycle of reaction and victimhood. That's what you're bringing to us, and I want to thank you very much for doing that today.

Barbara La Pointe  30:42  
Thank you, Steve. I think it's a relevant topic, and I enjoyed our time.

Steve Altishin  30:48  
Oh, I did too. Absolutely. And I'd like to tell everyone listening, that if you have any questions on this, you can post it here and we can get you connected with Barbara. Barbara has given you ways to connect with her as well, feel free just as well. So until next time, everyone stay safe, stay happy, be well.

This has been Modern Family Matters, a legal podcast focusing on providing real answers and direction for individuals and families. Our podcast is sponsored by Landerholm family law and Pacific cascade family law, serving families in Oregon and Washington. If you are in need of legal counsel, or have additional questions about a family law matter important to you, please visit our websites at Landerholm or Pacific cascade family You can also call our headquarters at 5032270 200. To schedule a case evaluation with one of our seasoned attorneys. Modern Family Matters, advocating for your better tomorrow and offering legal solutions important to the Modern Family.

This has been Modern Family Matters, a legal podcast focusing on providing real answers and direction for individuals and families. Our podcast is sponsored by Landerholm Family Law and Pacific Cascade Family Law, serving families in Oregon and Washington. If you are in need of legal counsel or have additional questions about a family law matter important to you, please visit our websites at or You can also call our headquarters at (503) 227-0200 to schedule a case evaluation with one of our seasoned attorneys. Modern Family Matters, advocating for your better tomorrow and offering legal solutions important to the modern family.