In an earlier article about loving someone with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), we established that two of the primary issues facing families are “unrelenting conflict” and “inhibited grieving.” In this article, we will examine “inhibited grieving,” what it means, and how families can start to overcome it.
What Is ‘Inhibited Grieving’?
As Shari Manning, Ph.D., founder and chief executive officer of Treatment Implementation Collaborative, describes it, “inhibited grieving” is the suppression of emotion as a result of constant conflict. Both people with BPD and their loved ones find themselves simply shutting down emotionally.
When we shove feelings aside and don’t deal with them, we do so to avoid the pain that those feelings bring up in us. Shame and sadness are two of the most common triggers that cause people with BPD to reflexively retreat and affect a blank demeanor, belying the turmoil under the surface.
Overcoming ‘Inhibited Grieving’ as a Family
At times, it is difficult to remember that people with Borderline Personality Disorder are doing the best they can, just as we all are. We can only improve behaviors when we develop the skills to do so with practice. Just as the person in BPD treatment must apply themselves to the task of mastering mindfulness techniques and regulating their emotions, so must the loved ones of those with BPD if we are to see the best possible results for everyone.
We must recognize our own unhealthy responses because it is easy to lose our own problem-solving abilities, engage in impulsive behaviors, and emotionally escalate when confronted with BPD-related conflicts.
Learning how to validate the emotions a person with Borderline Personality Disorder experiences will help bring those emotions to the surface, where they can be accepted and processed instead of shoved aside and ignored.
Manning discussed one method of validation in which a family member says to the person with BPD, “If I were experiencing what you are, I would feel ____.” In simply putting ourselves in their shoes for a moment, we validate their emotions without necessarily condoning the behavior.
We should never inadvertently enforce the idea that people with BPD cannot tolerate any emotions. Both therapists and family members need to adopt the role of cheerleader and encourage our loved ones with BPD to believe in their own ability to self-soothe and problem solve.
De-escalating Emotional Situations
Manning suggested three ways to help de-escalate ourselves and the person with Borderline Personality Disorder:
- When a person with BPD is elevating emotionally and becoming more distressed, do as much validating as you can in order to bring emotionality down and create a space where the person may open up a bit to being helped.
- Regulate your own emotions. Stop in the moment to recognize and identify your own emotions. This will automatically help you regain your own emotional stability and allow you to engage with the person with BPD in a productive manner.
- Get support. It is often a lonely place to be in when you are coping with a family member who has BPD. There are others who know what you’re going through. Find them and create a support system for yourself.
It is not always easy to cope with the continual crises and emotional upheaval that seem inherent to living with a person with Borderline Personality Disorder. When we know how to communicate more effectively and address our own role in contributing to problems, we can begin to move toward more fulfilling relationships and less conflict.