I received an email last week asking me if I could help with some suggestions for someone who wanted help on communicating with a friend who has BPD. I am still working on a detailed response and as such this post will be updated as I add more of my thoughts on this matter, but I felt I already had enough to say on the subject to make a post out of it as well as respond to the email.
I also hope that in reading this some of my fellow BP’s will comment with their own ideas and suggestions about what helps when trying to communicate with someone who has BPD.
Any way here goes…
*Please bear in mind these thoughts and suggestions are only based on my own experience and what I think helps for me, they may not work for others as everyone is unique, BPD or not!*
Listen without interrupting even if you have a valid point, if they need to let it out first let them, they may not be able to if you don’t and will then clam up and refuse point blank to discuss.
Validate their feelings, but don’t say things like ‘I know how you are feeling’ this will instantly trigger a ‘how the fuck could you know’ thought process. I hate when people use the word ‘know’ because for me everything said after that word immediately becomes ‘blah, blah, blah’ because my head is screaming ‘how the fuck could you ‘know’ anything?’ maybe saying ‘I can ‘see’’ or ‘I can ‘hear’ that you are feeling some bad things right now… ‘ or some other way of replacing it with something that indicates you recognise but at the same time shows you don’t really know but would like to, would be better.
Take them seriously.
Don’t raise your voice in an argument even if they are screaming and shouting at you, regardless of how angry you are, raising your voice will make them feel you are patronizing and treating them like a child – even if they are behaving like one, this won’t help. Tone is taken a lot harshly to someone with BPD.
If they ask you to do something reasonable do it – for example I recently asked someone to block me on facebook as I kept sending them messages and they wouldn’t so it continued and it wasn’t good for me to be sending them messages, I still felt like crap when they did block me, but at the same time I was relieved because I no longer had to fight the temptation to bombard them with messages.
If the same argument keeps coming up over and again consider if you have actually made any effort to change things or have just expected them to change. For me this recently led to a big blowout because my OH wanted me to explain why I was upset and I just lost it because I said ‘what’s the point, it’s the same thing again’ I gave up but resentment and anger just boiled because I had tried to be more flexible and less pressurizing on the issue but got zero effort to meet me in the middle from my partner trying to give a bit more knowing how much it meant to me. As with any relationship even without BPD in the mix compromise and meeting in the middle are often required in relationships, and it is so much harder for a BP to change than it is for non-BP’s so if we are making a effort to meet you in the middle you need to double your effort to meet us there because it is so much harder for us to even try to do this!
The BP will try to push you away out of fear of abandonment causing her to ‘strike first’ before you can do it to her. Trying to negotiate a compromise will be difficult but if you really feel you were never going to abandon her then just do your best to make it easier for her to cope with this difficult time – you are probably hurting too but if you can be friendly about things she may come around or you may be able to salvage something if you can just hold on to the strength she lacks.
For me the eyes have it – I can see your hurt, anger, disgust even if your voice is telling me something different and I will either ignore it burying the feelings it creates to explode another time or let rip calling you a liar as you say you love me when your eyes are filled with hatred, or you say I’m not here to upset you when your eyes are smiling that I am upset that you are there.
There is some literature about BPD that say you should never counter-defend, argue back or argue your point at all and while I agree that doing so only provokes further BPD responses at the same time I don’t think anyone should allow themselves to be a doormat to BPD and just take it all without arguing back because then the BPD wins and this will always be used against you too – yet another no-win, argue back inflame things at the time, don’t argue back, make things worse in the long run as the BPD will again build up resentment of you being a weak, coward who can be controlled and manipulated. You just need to be careful ‘how’ you argue back, doing it as gently and as without ‘blame’ as you can and taking in all the other suggestions here too.
You think you are dealing with a rational, sensible adult who can give and take, share and understand, her empathy will be great but her ability to withstand any hint of criticism or demonstration of belief in her (good things and bad things) will trigger all kinds of abandonment fears. in other words praise can be as bad as criticism as she may feel that in ‘doing’ well you will no longer be there for her as she no longer ‘needs’ you in your eyes.
At the end of the day BPD is shit and any situation will always be a no-win situation for both parties in some respect. All you can do is do your best not to inflame the situation with knowingly wrong responses – and yes some people once they are aware of wrong responses will then deliberately use these to cause hurt and pain if they have lost all love for the BP or do not respect them, parents are often the worst for this as they feel to ‘blame’ for the child’s condition and want to shift blame back to the BP.
Loved ones should work closely with the BP so that you can both better understand when the BP is talking for you. Read books on BPD together, encourage the BP to be as open as they are comfortable with about their feelings, without being pushy – they may need some time to process ‘why’ they are upset before they can explain it to you, so even if you can see they are upset but they say ‘I’m fine’ just remind them that when/if they are ready you will listen.
Never, ever start a sentence with “we need to talk…”. My most dreaded phrase. The terror!
Communicate carefully because it is fraught with danger!
Be prepared for what ever you say to be misunderstood, twisted and interpreted in a different way to what it was meant, either accidentally or deliberately to suit the bp’s emotions at the time.
Don’t always just be a listener or just be a problem solver, try to get a balance between the two and judge when the BP just wants to let off steam – in which case they need a listener, or if they need help in which case they need the problem solver. I know this is difficult but the BP may not always be able to tell you which she needs, you have to guess (problematic in itself I know!) by what she says and how she says it.
Try to put your own feelings aside temporarily to focus on the BP’s feelings because as bad as yours may be imagine them ten times stronger and not having the strength to handle them.
If the communication is happening in the middle of an “episode”, dont take what the person with BPD says personally. A lot of time attacks will be made, but more than likely the terrible things that are said arent meant.
If the communication is not face to face also remember never respond to a message immediately if you are angry – wait till you have calmed down or you will say the wrong things, but be careful not to delay responding too long – if you can’t say anything nice then a polite ‘I’m sorry I really can’t reply right now, I will get back to you when I can’ will let the other person know you will come back – but make sure you don’t use this to fob them off and not come back with a reply at all, the BP’s ability to trust is weak enough already.
Use the same rules of thumb that apply in all communication – be polite, listen, pay attention, don’t presume you know what they are saying, don’t finish their sentences, avoid going on the offensive, repeat back to clarify, stick to the topic, don’t change subjects, check and double check. Keep your communication pure and simple. Do not contaminate it with sarcasm, witticisms, or put downs. When you do that, people stop listening to what you say and get flooded with emotions and thoughts regarding how you are treating them.think about body language and facial expressions – these communicate more than words, as do tone and other non-verbal means of communication.
- Unstable Moods in Borderline Personality Disorder (showard76.wordpress.com)
- Do Borderlines lack Empathy? (showard76.wordpress.com)
- Splitting – Unstable Relationships in Borderline Personality Disorder (showard76.wordpress.com)
- Impulsivity and Borderline Personality Disorder (showard76.wordpress.com)
- passing along a great site (heartjunky.wordpress.com)
- Anger and Borderline Personality Disorder (showard76.wordpress.com)
- Ten Tips for Staying in a Relationship with a Borderline Loved One (psychologytoday.com)