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BPD Impact on Communication

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Updated: December 11, 2006

Communication is a problem in many relationships. When someone has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), communicating basic feelings can seem impossible.

No matter how clearly the person with BPD explains her feelings, friends and family members seem not to really understand what she is saying. Likewise, friends and family members may find that their simplest statements are being misunderstood – somehow distorted into something much different than they had intended. Everyone can end up defending themselves against something they had never realized they were saying.

As a result of these perpetual miscommunications, it is important that people with BPD and those in their lives (friends, family, clinicians) have:

  1. Insight into her feelings and experiences
  2. A general stated understanding of trust
  3. A common vocabulary

These tools will allow the person with BPD and those in her life to be more likely to effectively communicate.

An Example

Joyce, who has BPD, suddenly feels very angry with her spouse, and begins yelling at him and accusing him of embarrassing her. Her husband, Bruce, feels that this anger came out of nowhere and has no idea what he did to trigger it. Joyce gets increasingly upset while Bruce becomes defensive, just waiting for this episode to end. Bruce tries to leave the room, and Joyce suddenly fears that he is angry with her. Her anger is then fueled by fear.

Eventually the anger ebbs. Although things are quieter Bruce does not know what he did, and Joyce is frustrated that Bruce keeps upsetting her. Nothing can be resolved.

In this example, neither Joyce nor Bruce really understood what triggered the episode. Joyce was not able to communicate her feelings to Bruce since she did not have insight into what was causing her feel angry in the first place. Once Bruce tried to leave the room, Joyce feared that he was never going to care for her again. Her lack of trust in Bruce fueled her anger. Finally, Joyce did not have a vocabulary to communicate her feelings/fears to Bruce, further complicating the episode and increasing her frustration.

It is just as important that the people in her life gain insight into the motivations and feelings of the person with BPD. If Bruce has a general understanding of how Joyce thinks, feels, and reacts, he can be better equipped to address her anger in a positive supportive manner; helping her get to her real feeling, and thus to the resolution.

Summary

It is vital that a person with BPD engage in relationships have a general foundation of trust. Only with this foundation can a relationship be successful. It is also important that the participants in the relationship develop insight and a common language. Once a person with BPD gains insight and skills to communicate effectively, she will be better able to establish and maintain positive relationships.

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