Communication can be difficult enough on its own, let alone when one of the parties involved has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Whether you work with someone diagnosed with BPD or are their spouse, child, or neighbor, knowing a few methods of communication can help you go a long way toward building a solid relationship.
Be Clear About What You’re Communicating
Has something like this ever happened? You might be making a teasing but playful joke about your partner’s cooking, when all of the sudden they are locked in the bathroom crying. Or perhaps you made a small comment at a staff meeting about another colleague’s performance, and minutes later they are threatening to quit.
Although a person with Borderline Personality Disorder might have a marvelous sense of humor, using sarcasm or ambiguous speech can really throw someone with BPD for a loop. Similarly, if you show the slightest evidence of anger or displeasure, someone with BPD may tend to see it as if through a magnifying glass.
We all have the ability to identify and express basic emotions – sadness, fear, anger, delight. When the message gets muddled, someone with Borderline Personality Disorder might misinterpret the expression for the worse. Someone with BPD can easily become embarrassed, humiliated, and insecure, often with an overblown reaction.
Try to be as clear as you can with what you are saying and the message you want to convey so that you don’t leave it open to interpretation or confusion.
If you can, avoid the following types of communication:
- Attacking. If you are working under a deadline, for instance, it is easy to get frustrated and flood a colleague with Borderline Personality Disorder by asking, “Where are the reports I asked for and the budget for next year. These were supposed to be done by now!” Instead of approaching them with this attacking behavior, you may want to make an itemized list for them and offer to go over it together, assessing the status of each item.
- “You” statements. It’s always easier to assume it is someone else’s fault. However, when you point the finger at someone with Borderline Personality Disorder, you may tap into their low estimation of self-worth. So instead of using statements that sound accusatory, try using more personalized statements. For instance, instead of saying, “You forgot to pick up the kids again,” you might say, “I’m guessing you had a pretty busy day and picking up the kids slipped your mind. Why don’t we plan on touching base late in the day from now on to see who should do it? Also, is there anything at work going on that you want to talk about?”
Nonverbal Communication Techniques
Sometimes your body language can have as much of an impact as what you are saying and how you are saying it. Trying using these nonverbal tactics for better communication with someone who has Borderline Personality Disorder:
- Keep all limbs uncrossed and your fists unclenched
- Sit up straight
- Put away distractions, such as your cell phone
- Keep a neutral face, but nod to show you are attentive
- Make no effort or movement to respond until you are sure the other person has finished talking
When dealing with someone who has Borderline Personality Disorder, there might be times when no effective communication seems possible. If you are a supervisor, you may have considered letting your employee go, and if you are an employee with a supervisor with BPD, you may have considered leaving your position. If the person with BPD is in your family, the situation may be a little bit trickier.
Trying these communications tactics might make for a more effective dialogue with your spouse, coworker, or friend, whether or not they do have Borderline Personality Disorder.