Best friend has borderline personality disorder. How to stay connected?

In my experience, you can’t win with someone who has borderline personality disorder (BPD). You might start off feeling great around them, but sooner or later, they will accuse you of “offending, betraying, abandoning, or not really caring” about them. And one day, because you will tire of trying to prove yourself, you will give up. You will feel controlled, and they will feel justified for assuming the worst about you.

Understanding borderline personality disorder (BPD)

  • People with BPD aren’t crazy. They can be high-strung, thin-skinned, and self-absorbed.
  • Their reactions—while extreme to you—feel justified to them.
  • Because they feel everything—and often misinterpret what they’re experiencing—they can be difficult to reason with.
  • Things that feel innocuous or reasonable to you really can feel unbearably rude, hurtful, or painful to them.
  • Because their bodies misinterpret or exaggerate the meaning of other people’s words or actions, they are often disappointed when a relationship they thought was mutual turns out to be one-sided.
  • Their relationships tend to be voloatile, intense, and short-lived.
  • Because they feel slighted often, the people around them tend to tiptoe, give more than they receive to prove they care, and accept erratic, irrational, and seemingly crazy behavior.
  • Giving in to irrational demands for loyalty, devotion, or special treatment will eventually lead to resentment of the person you once loved.

Loving someone with BPD

It’s possible to love someone who suffers from borderline personality disorder. As long as you meet their needs, they can be delightful. But as soon as you disappoint them, watch out. You’ll find yourself scratching your head while walking on eggshells.

My advice is to tell your friend that you love her. Andthat you will honor her request for no contact. And enjoy your freedom.

Chances are that sooner or later, your friend will call you out of the blue. She won’t mention the month that’s passed since you last spoke. She won’t apologize for cutting you off, hanging up on you, or accusing you of not caring about her.

She’ll probably act like nothing happened. Then she’ll ask you if you still want to go to concert you planned to attend together.

Above all, do not bend over backwards to prove your love or give in to emotional demands for greater loyalty or special treatment. This only encourages more of the same. Instead, express love-with-limits. It’s really your only hopeof being in a successful long term relationship with someone with BPD.

Years ago, I had a client who always arrived late and wouldn’t leave at the end of her session. When I mentioned this pattern, she blew up. She accused me of “faking it all along.” She told me I had misled her into thinking she was special.

“If I didn’t know it before,” she said, “I know it now. All I am to you is a paycheck!”

In her mind this made perfect sense. If she arrived late and I gave her extra time, this would prove she was special. The truth was that if I gave her extra time, it would mean that my next client would be kept waiting. Not only would this be disrespectful of their time. It would mean that everyone would have to start late, and I would be running over for the rest of the day.

Over time, if you give in to irrational expectations they will continue. Sooner or later, you will start to pull away. And your friend will be right. You’ll go from being the “only one who cares,” to being “just like everybody else.”

You’ll be the latest in the string of people who have “stopped caring” and really are trying to avoid her.

How to talk to someone who is irrational. Timing is everything.

I don’t recommend trying to reason with anyone who is angry or irrational.

Here’s why. When a person is angry, stress hormones are automatically released into the bloodstream. These hormones tell the body to do one of four things:

  1. Fight
  2. Flee
  3. Freeze
  4. Collapse

Notice that “Talk “isn’t on the list. That’s because anytime we feel personally attacked or threatened, our reptilian brain—the ancient, purely reflexive, non-rational part of the brain—reacts, and our entire body shifts into survival mode. We don’t think straight from this place, because in survival mode, the rational part of our brain shuts down so the reptilian brain can get us to safety.

It is always better to postpone difficult discussions until both parties are in a more balanced, and more resourceful place. Nobody thinks straight in a hailstorm. Better to wait until the storm has passed.

Deciphering a Dying Man’s Wishes

So sorry your boyfriend is dying and that you’re having to struggle with this issue at such a vulnerable time for both of you.

I think it’s important to know why your boyfriend is asking you to leave. It could mean any number of things, and it would be good to know what his reasons are before you decide a course of action.

For example:

  • It could be that seeing you suffer is too painful for him. If that’s the case, your presence may be adding to his own suffering, since he can’t relieve you of it. He might be able to spend time with you if your were sharing your grief and pain elsewhere—like with a friend or counselor. That way, when you were with your boyfriend, he might experience you as a support, instead of an amplifier of his own suffering.
  • It could be that he feels embarrassed having you see him in a weakened state. if he is getting weaker or losing the full functioning of all his faculties. It’s hard to see yourself being whittle away by disease or pain, much less having someone you love witness this diminishment.
  • It could be that he feels guilty for leaving you, so he’s concerned about you ‘wasting your time’ on him when you could be looking for someone who isn’t dying.
  • It could be that the way you’re trying to support him isn’t the way he wants to feel supported. I think it’s worth asking him if there is some way you could be with him that would actually be a comfort. You can assume he’s going through his own internal ‘night of the soul,’ so without asking, it’s impossible to know what’s behind his request, and if anything you could offer might be helpful.
  • It could be that he has other reasons for wanting you to leave. And he may not be able to articulate or be unwilling to talk about them.

Whatever his reasons, it sounds like you could used some grief counseling to prepare yourself for the inevitable, and to work though whatever issues are coming up for you through all this. Remember that you both matter. You both have needs right now that you may not be able to satisfy.

I recommend that you get more information from your boyfriend so you are clear why he’s insisting you move on right now, instead of letting you be with him through all this. In the event that he won’t or can’t explain, I would honor his wishes.

Dying is taking away your boyfriend’s liberty, his freedom, his vitality, his future, his choices, his sense of control. By honoring his wishes you are showing him you respect his right to choose how, and in whose presence he spends his final months, weeks, days, and moments.
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Tricky Tuesday: How to communicate with someone who won’t talk to you

Weekly lesson in how to deliver hard messages

Today’s Tricky Tuesday is about breaking through the silence when someone you care about is unwilling or unable to talk to you.

First off, you must understand the distinction between those two states—unwilling or unable. While the two may exist at the same time, they don’t necessarily.

You must understand the distinction between unwilling and unable. While the two may exist at the same time, they don’t necessarily.

Unwilling can mean many things:

  • I’m hiding something.
  • I’m afraid of your reaction.
  • I’m ashamed of something I did.
  • I’m stalling for time to come up with an alibi or excuse.
  • I’m showing you how it feels to be shut out.
  • I’m trying to guilt you into doing something you forgot to do, or don’t want to do.
  • I want you to suffer.
  • I’m trying to make you think I know more than I do about something you did (so you’ll confess).
  • I’m actually protecting you by not saying what I’d like to say right now.
  • I need to focus on another task or issue that can’t wait.
  • I refuse to talk about this with others present.
  • I don’t feel safe or equipped to talk about this topic, except in therapy.

Unable can mean something very different:

  • I’m over-stimulated right now and my brain isn’t working well enough to talk.
  • I’m not sure what I’m feeling because my body is flooded with multiple feelings at once.
  • I can’t find the right words.
  • I need more time to process what I’m feeling.
  • I can’t be pressured into talking.
  • I’m too tired.
  • I need to better-rested before we have this conversation.
  • You always interrupt me or tell me what I should be thinking or doing, so I can’t get my thoughts out.

 The situation

Ben and Joel have adopted a child. Initially, they were thrilled, but for the past few days, something hasn’t felt right.  Ben came home from work Friday, agitated. He barely acknowledged Joel or the baby the entire weekend.

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Before the baby came, the couple had agreed: Ben would keep working as a teacher, and Joel would take unpaid leave from work to stay home with their new baby. Then, once school was out, Ben would take over for the summer and Joel would go back to work.

The silence was deafening.  Joel knew something was wrong, but Ben refused to talk and insisted everything was fine. The truth was, Ben had lost his temper with a student who made an offensive joke about gays.  Witnesses saw Ben chase the boy down the hall and shove him against a locker.  Ben was fired.

There is nothing unusual about this kind of problem. When shame takes over, it becomes painful–if not impossible—to speak about it.

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The Talk to Me, Already!  card was designed to give the person who’s feeling shut out a way to connect with the person unwilling or unable to speak. It allows the Sender to express their hurt, anger, suspicions, or fears from a distance when the person in the room is unresponsive. Below is an example of screenshots I took of an Express Yourself ECard Joel might have written to Ben. The remaining checklists (not visible on the first screenshot) give Joel a chance to express both his hurt and his love for Ben, as well as his desire to know the truth so he can be part of whatever solution they need to come up with as a couple. The beauty of the cards is that they can be sent from a distance to anyone’s phone (even if they have an android) or tablet, since the link appears in an email.

TT Cropped tightly Oct 11 Talk to me double

Tricky Tuesday: How to say you’re Sorry so it really hits the spot

 Weekly lesson in how to deliver hard messages

“Sorry” is an easy word to spell. But it’s a meaningless word to say,  unless it’s delivered effectively.

Today’s Tricky Tuesday is about learning how to deliver an effective Sorry after screwing up again and after promising to do better.

The cast of characters

Jack and Shaya are a young couple with their first child on the way. Jack is one of those people who would do anything for his friends. Shaya loves that about him. What she doesn’t love is when he breaks his promises to her, either because he doesn’t want to disappoint his friends, he’s having too much fun, or because he doesn’t want his friends to think he’s being controlled by his wife.

In today’s example, Jack is in the doghouse and won’t get out by offering a quick and sheepish (dogish?) “Sorry.” For any apology to be meaningful, it needs to include real repair which—according to the Gottman Institute—is an essential skill to master if you want to be in healthy relationship.

The situation

Weeks ago, Shaya told him about an award she was receiving and asked him to put the date on his calendar so he could go with her to the awards banquet. The night before the banquet, a buddy called and invited Jack to go fishing the following morning. The plan was to leave the house by 6 AM and be back by noon. This sounded perfect.

Although in theory this plan would work, Shaya was worried. She wanted to say yes, but she knew from experience that once Jack and his buddies started fishing, they had a hard time stopping.

“I don’t mind you going,” she said, “but you have to promise to quit early. I don’t want to be stressed-out before the banquet wondering if you’ll make it home in time.”

“I promise to be back before noon, so you can relax for the rest of the day.”

The next morning, Jack’s friend showed up 45 minutes later than planned. There was still time to go fishing and be back by noon, but Jack knew it would be tight. To keep his promise to be back before noon meant they would have to quit fishing an hour earlier.

But they didn’t quit an hour earlier. They quit 45 minutes earlier and then got caught in road construction. By the time Jack got home, Shaya had already left for the banquet.

Knowing he had blown it, Jack threw on some clothes and had his buddy drop him off at the banquet. As luck would have it, he sat down| moments before Shaya got up to accept her award.

By that time, Shaya wanted nothing to do with him. Not only did Jack break his promise, but he hadn’t showered and looked like he had just wandered in off the street.

The dinner was a disaster and the ride home was worse.

“Do not talk to me,” Shaya said to him. “And just so you know, I don’t ever want to hear your excuse for not being home by noon.”

Okay, so what’s the way back for Jack?

The Solution

There’s nothing Jack can do to erase the facts. He promised he would be home before noon and he wasn’t. Not only did he break his promise by not being home on time. He didn’t call Shaya to say he’d be late so she didn’t worry that he might have drowned or been in an accident. He just showed up at the last possible moment looking like a rumpled mess.

What Jack would like to do is explain to Shaya why he was late: He left in time, but got Shaya about the road construction,

But explaining won’t help.  When you break a promise, it doesn’t matter that you meant well. It doesn’t matter that you were caught in traffic. The only thing that matters is that the other person feels like you understand how your actions hurt them.

For example, if you accidentally run over my dog because it got off its leash, I don’t want to hear a lecture about what a bad dog owner I am for not controlling my dog. What I want is for you to stop your car and run out into the street to see if there’s any way to save him, If there is, I want you to do it, and no matter what happens next, I want to hear how sorry you are and how terrible you feel about my poor dog.

When you break a promise, your reasons don’t matter. What does matter is that the other person feels like you understand how your actions hurt them, and believes that you are going to do whatever you can to repair the damage, as quickly as possible.

The Sorry card was designed to teach you how to apologize effectively, without making excuses, or explaining how or why you did what you did. The only time the other person is going to care why you did something that hurt them is after they believe you understand how your behavior affected them, and that you want to do something to show that you get it.

For example, say you forget to pick up your child because you forgot which day she had soccer. That doesn’t make you a bad parent.  But that little person standing all alone in her blue knee-highs may be scared, or angry, or be feeling like you didn’t love her enough to remember. The point is, an apology is about them, not you. So don’t be quick to explain. Or add a ‘but…’ to your Sorry.

Here is the start of the Sorry card Jack might have written, using the Sorry card from the Express Yourself Ecard app. As you can see, nowhere does he defend or explain his reasons. His first priority is to acknowledge his screw-up and take full responsibility for it. And because it can be sent via email, even if Shaya’s not ready to talk to him, she probably would be curious to read a heartfelt Sorry if it dinged her on her iPhone.express yourself ecardsSorry Express Yourself ECard

 

In-depth description of the Express Yourself ECards App

Express Yourself ECards

Tired of being misunderstood? Wish you knew what to say and how to say it better? Express Yourself E-Cards help you clarify your thoughts and feelings, and find the perfect words to communicate them more effectively.

What the heck is it?

The Express Yourself E-Cards app is an ingenious communication tool for transforming relationships. It consists of 10 carefully constructed E-Cards that address 10 different topics people have trouble talking about.

Each of the 10 E-Cards consists of a sequence of fill-in-the-blank questions and checklists. This combination allows to create a unique and personal E-Card that maximizes your chances of being understood.

But the real power of the E-Cards comes from the experience you get while you’re completing the checklists. Although many of the choices you’re given won’t apply to your situation, some of them will. And those will cause an unmistakable shift in your body that says: “Yes! That’s it!” That’s the feeling we get each time we find words or phrases that match our experience.

Here are the 10 cards:

  • Ouch!
  • Can I be honest?
  • Talk to me!
  • Please listen!
  • I have a request.
  • I’m loving you.
  • Can you help?
  • Want me to appreciate you more?

Here’s how they work:

  • Pick whichever card fits the situation.
  • Fill in the blanks and checklists on the card.
  • Preview the card and edit it as much or as little as you wish.
  • Add a photo.
  • Hit Send.
  • The Receiver gets an email with a private link to view your card.

What makes Express Yourself E-Cards special?

  • They’re not generic. Every card you send will be unique.
  • They go deep.
  • They are fully editable. You can add, delete, or change anything before sending.
  • They increase self-awareness and self-confidence.
  • They increase emotional fluency.
  • They make it easy to talk about difficult topics.

Who can benefit from using them?

  • Couples and anyone in a relationship.
  • Parents and kids.
  • Engineers and computer nerds.
  • Speech therapists and occupational therapists.
  • Psychotherapists, school counselors, and teachers.

Will the app work for someone on the autism spectrum?Although it wasn’t designed specifically for this purpose, the Express Yourself E-Cards app has proven to be an amazing communication tool for high-functioning adolescents and adults on the autism spectrum. For those who have trouble reading or writing, checklists can be read aloud and completed by a parent, teacher, or friend.

About Betsy Sansby, MS, LMFT, creator of Express Yourself E-Cards

Betsy is a marriage and family therapist with over 30 years experience teaching couples and families how to communicate better. The app worked so well with her clients, she decided to make it available to everyone.  Her therapy practice is in Minnetonka, MN

Betsy is also available year round for phone and online individual and couples communication coaching and skill-building sessions.

 34 years in practice as a marriage counselor and the creator of Express Yourself ECards Appu

The 10 Express Yourself ECards

Here are all 10 E-Cards in the Express Yourself E-Cards App. You can download the app at the App Store onto your iPhone or iPad for free. And you can send an unlimited number of your first card for free from then on. For example, if I choose a Thanks card as the first card I want to send, I can send Thanks cards to everyone I know. After that, it’s only 99 cents to send an unlimited number of all the cards at any time.

Ask Betsy: Why do I feel better when I fill out an Express Yourself E-Card?

Why do I feel better when I fill out an Express Yourself E-Card?

Because your brain loves you when you get it right! It’s a fact. Something changes in our bodies the instant we find the words we’ve been searching for.

The best example is the feeling you get when you see someone you know coming toward you, but you can’t remember her name.

You know the feeling, right?

It’s physical. You smile awkwardly, while your mind scrambles through your mental Rolodex of names:

“Sarah?”

“Sandra?”

“Sally?”

“Shoot! What is her name?”

And then, it happens. Her sister shows up and instantly, you remember. “It’s Charlotte! Charlotte and Cherise Beignet. The Beignet sisters!”

The correct labeling of objects and feelings is soothing to areas of the brain associated with survival. Your life doesn’t depend on you remembering the names of the Beignet sisters. But it might depend on you properly identifying the word “snake” when you hear a hissing rattle coming at you in the desert.

Emotions come to us through our senses. We see, smell, taste, hear, or feel something, and our bodies react. We don’t consciously think “snake,” for example, and then run. We hear hissing and our brain says, “Run!” Only later—once we feel safe—do we have the luxury of time to reflect and accurately label the reason we reacted the way we did.

Anger is a destructive force in most relationships. It’s not a bad emotion. It’s just that its expression generally scares people without telling them anything useful.

Anger is blunt instrument. It does one thing extremely well. It pushes people away. But it doesn’t describe the other feelings that can bring us closer to the people we love.

Anger is blunt instrument. It does one thing extremely well. It pushes people away when we feel unsafe. But it doesn’t fully describe the complexity of the other feelings we’re having. It’s unusual to feel just anger, without also feeling hurt, embarrassed, lonely, dismissed, resentful, or controlled. And it’s the constructive expression of those feelings that can bring us closer to the people we love.

Filling out an E-Card makes you feel better because it helps you recognize, identify, and express the “all” of what you’re feeling: the hurt and the sadness, the disappointment and the loneliness, the heartache and the fear.

Many of my clients use the cards without ever sending them. They fill out the checklists as a way to clarify their thoughts and feelings before having a face-to-face conversation.

This naming process, and the soothing effect it has on us has been the greatest discovery for me in using the cards with my clients.  It turns out that learning to self-regulate by accessing the higher functions of the brain (where language is processed) is critical to self-mastery, and leads to more effective self-expression.

Affairs, Separation, Divorce Part 2: What about the kids?

In Part 1, I discussed why most affairs fail. If you have kids, your risk of failure is even greater. If you do decide to separate, divorce, or continue with an affair, Part 2 contains a list of Dos and Don’ts for parents to follow.

  • Do make sure your kids have someone to talk to: a counselor, clergy, or other trusted adult besides their parents.
  • Don’t think that just because they’re not talking about it, they aren’t struggling.
  • Do answer their questions honestly, but with restraint.
  • Don’t burden children with information they don’t need to know and won’t be able to forget. Remember: They are counting on you to make them feel safe in the world.
  • Do treat your spouse with respect. Your kids need two parents who can disagree, be angry, even fall out of love, but never be disrespectful of one another.
  • Don’t talk negatively about your ex or their affair partner to your kids, or within earshot of them, or in texts. It hurts them and makes you look heartless, cruel, or petty.
  • Always always communicate directly with your ex about changes in plans, requests, complaints.
  • Don’t put your kids in the middle. For example, Don’t pressure them take sides or ask them to “get your mom to say yes.”
  • Don’t pump kids for ‘dish’ on ex’s affair partner
  • It’s okay to share your sadness with children in general terms about what’s happening.
  • Do not over-share. For example, don’t discuss a spouse’s abusive behavior, unless the child has witnessed or overheard it, or you have concerns about the child’s safety with the other parent: chemical use, violence, extreme volatility.
  • Don’t use a child as your confidante. This is damagaing to teenagers as well as children.
  • Don’t expect them or guilt them into taking care of you.
  • Do assure them you are getting outside support (and get it!)
  • Do comply with agreements between you and your ex.
  • Don’t bribe kids with things the other parent can’t or won’t get them.
  • Don’t ever ask them to keep secrets from their mom or dad.

Above all, remember: Nothing you do as a parent is more important than keeping them healthy, mentally and physically during this difficult time for your family.

photo courtesy of Unsplash