Communicating With Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder (1)(2)
First review, Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a mental disorder characterized by extreme mood swings, trouble with interpersonal relationships, a tendency toward impulsivity, intense fear of abandonment, and an unstable self-image. Keep in mind that individuals with BPD experience heightened emotional pain around perceived abandonment and the idea of being alone. Starting out with compassion, a gentle approach to language, and avoiding blame and defensiveness will help with detachment and saying no. Learn why saying no to someone with borderline personality disorder is difficult.
It may also provide modeling of healthy interpersonal effectiveness. People with BPD have trouble reading body language or understanding the nonverbal content of a conversation. They may say things that are cruel, unfair, or irrational. The problem for people with BPD is that the disorder distorts both the messages they hear and those they try to express.
Difficulties Hearing No
Hearing “no” can trigger the perceived abandonment and brings on intense feelings of suicidal thoughts, self-harm, depression, or acting out impulsively. These are difficult emotions to witness, and you yourself may even begin to have feelings of blame, guilt, and distress, which may affect your self-esteem. This is normal; it never feels good to feel as though you are hurting someone, letting them down, or unable to provide emotional support.
Healthy relationships are about clearly seeing where you begin and end and where the other person begins and ends. When you find yourself sacrificing your own daily living and self-care for another, you are forming an enmeshed relationship built on co-dependency, and it becomes difficult to see where one person begins and the other person ends. Brene Brown references this well in her HBO series based on her book “Atlas of the Hear.”
Saying No and Setting Boundaries
When setting boundaries initially, it may feel as though the boundaries are not working. This is because the person with BPD you are attempting boundaries with may be operating on the impression that boundaries may be broken or will not hold up, given their previous experiences. Emotional reactivity gets worse in the individual with BPD initially before it gets better. The key point to take home here is to hold boundaries. However, there are ways in which to soften the harshness of boundaries.
Recognize their inner child (4): Recognize the emotional distress as their unmet needs dating back to childhood. This may help with compassion and reinforce within you to model interpersonal effectiveness.
Validate their feelings (4): Keep a non-judgmental stance and verbalize to them your understanding of their feelings.
Be kind though firm with boundaries (4): As a tip, don’t rush the conversation or be blunted. Take your time so that the environment may remain calm. It’s never helpful to rush boundaries in the heat of the moment. When there is a mature and calm environment, clearly communicate your needs. It is helpful to be collaborative in forming a plan so that your needs and their needs can be met in the middle, if possible.
Take care (4): Being held emotionally hostage is feeling blamed and responsible for another person’s emotional state. No one needs to be responsible for another person’s emotions. Owning your emotions through “I statement(s)” can help alleviate guilt. It is not anyone’s job to fix others or force healing of past trauma.
Seeking professional help: Individual therapy and couples therapy can help better the communication between two, defuse feelings and enmeshment, and help recognize emotions, as well as find coping skills that promote independent soothing.
Difficulties and Risks (5)
It is ok to walk away from unreasonable behavior. When there is aggression, like throwing things or screaming, it’s ok to feel this is unacceptable. No one hears one another when emotions are heightened. Taking a break and coming back with a gentle start-up benefits both parties.
Never Ignore self-destructive behaviors and/or suicidal threats! Identify the risk if anyone is in harm’s way. If the BPD person is at risk or you yourself are at risk, call 911. If the individual lashing out is in danger of harming themselves:
- DO NOT LEAVE THEM ALONE
- CALL one or more of the following:
- Their therapist
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK