Over time, as a litigation attorney who regularly deals with high-conflict situations in divorce, real estate, and even business transactions, I’ve had to learn a lot about these high-conflict people. There are certain people that do not seem to be guided by the same principles as reasonable people, or as experienced therapists like Bill Eddy has spent his career researching, people who do not learn from past experience, lack insight, and are more impulsive than 95% of the rest of society.
Hopefully, you don’t live next to someone like George Trepal, the man convicted of murdering a neighbor by surreptitiously poisoning her with thallium in 1988, by meticulously placing the substance in her soda bottles. Trepal seemed to be a quiet neighbor by all accounts, but he and his wife had previously threatened the victim for her children’s noise in the yard, as well as making numerous threats against their neighbors. Trepal had threatened the family dozens of times and made the family the target of his bubbling rage.
Narcissistic neighbors or other high-conflict neighbors have an ability to make your life extremely difficult and can drain your energy (and pocketbook). They are the ones that may complain incessantly about minor noise, boundary lines, and they may resort to threatening you or calling police with noise complaints or boundary disputes. High-conflict people are those that have long-standing patterns of looking at the world as, “You’re either with me, or you’re against me.” They may be impulsive and be highly motivated to engage in drama or high-conflict situations. They may be manipulative and grandiose. They may spread rumors or engage others, or they may be perpetual victims.
It would be nice if you could control who moves in next door, but often, we have very little control over who moves in next to us. So how do you know if your neighbors may be toxic narcissists or other high-conflict people (including sociopaths and borderline personalities)? How can you deal with these toxic neighbors without losing your mind?
Most importantly, there are people who look like us, seem to be decent people, but they may have more sinister motives, and they may have different worldviews than you. People with personality disorders have an enduring pattern of behavior and inner experiences that are remarkably different than most of us. The National Institutes of Health has published studies that indicate the rate of adults living in the U.S. being afflicted with at least one personality disorder to be as high as almost 10%! Because many can be very unpredictable and react badly to normal, everyday situations, please keep your safety in mind first and contact law enforcement, if necessary.
You can use the following list and examples to deal with a high conflict personality and in dealing with personality disorders. If your neighbor has resorted to any of the following, you may be living next to a toxic narcissist or other high-conflict type of person:
- Your neighbor attempts to talk to you but immediately takes a confrontational approach. It could be a conversation regarding leaving your trash can in your driveway when your HOA regulations do not allow you to do that. Instead of simply asking you to consider moving your trash can to avoid the accumulation of debris and rodent or insect activity, your neighbor begins yelling at you about what you’re doing wrong, and when you act surprised, your neighbor blames you for your surprised reaction.
What you should do: If your neighbor cannot calm down and engage in courteous and civil communications, you should simply disengage and thank her for bringing the situation to your attention. Try to resolve the problem, but if she then brings up another situation, it may be time to talk to an attorney.
- Your neighbor refuses to negotiate with you or attempt to settle the situation amicably. This person may give you a choice, and if you don’t comply with his unreasonable demands, he becomes even more upset and doesn’t seem interested at all in settling your dispute. For example, perhaps your neighbor tells you to move your basketball hoop because your children could potentially damage his car. You ask him to consider parking a little further away and you’ll move the hoop a little over, but he becomes adamant that you should move the hoop, and he is not interested in moving his car.
What you should do: As hard as it may be, you can simply say, “I hope we can resolve the situation as amicably as possible and in a neighborly fashion, but your all-or-nothing demand doesn’t seem entirely reasonable. Let me think about it.” By doing this, you are drawing a boundary and setting the tone for any future communications, i.e., if he is going to remain unreasonable, you are not interested in further communications.”
- Your neighbor calls the police to report noise violations without ever approaching you. There are people that will resort to unnecessarily involving law enforcement without confronting you about any issues. I believe that this type of behavior is at the heart of many high-conflict personalities – attempting to involve others to take their “side.”
What you should do: If you’re not violating any noise ordinances or homeowners’ bylaws, do what you’re doing if you’re behaving reasonably and courteously. I would not confront this type of person because you are engaging in their drama-making behavior, and this is the energy they need to survive, as sad as it is.
- Your neighbor threatens litigation repeatedly over trivial matters. High-conflict personalities sometimes love making spurious threats of litigation without cause. For example, if you innocently believed that your garden chairs were on your boundary lines, but you realize that they may be within their property lines after your neighbor sends you a nasty letter threatening immediate legal action, you may be living next to a high-conflict person. Normal and reasonable people do not immediately threaten litigation.
What you should do: Address the situation as quietly as possible and do not engage in battle with this type of neighbor. Talk to an attorney to know your legal rights. Have an attorney respond, if at all, but if you can, you may be able to disregard their crazy-making threats of litigation after knowing your legal rights.
- Your neighbor spreads gossip about you. High-conflict people, including narcissists, histrionics, anti-social persons, and borderline personality-disordered individuals, sometimes love drama and spreading rumors about others. For example, your children tell you that another neighbor asks them about your recent arrest, but you’ve never been arrested, and this leads you to suspect your neighbor is at it again with spreading false rumors about you, this can be very troubling.
What you should do: Tell your children that there are people in the world that thrive on this type of drama, and the rumors are untrue. Try to just disregard the false rumors but know your rights. You may want to speak with an attorney about pursuing a defamation, libel, or slander suit. Keep going about your normal business. There are empty people who suffer from such low self-worth and an unstable self-image that they become jealous of others who seem to be doing well. Take it as a compliment, as difficult as it may be.
Fairfax Family Law and Divorce Lawyer: If you’re looking for a Virginia attorney with experience in dealing with high-conflict personalities and situations, contact Keithley Law, PLLC, PLLC today by calling (703) 865-7710 and schedule an initial consultation in our Fairfax law office. Our attorneys are experienced in high-conflict divorces and helping people navigate through the frustrations of dealing with toxic narcissists.
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