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Posts Tagged ‘Borderline Personality Disorder’

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may be getting the impression that there is some crazy in my life.  You would not be mistaken.  This year, I’ve been learning about setting boundaries.  I think I’m normally a pretty assertive or even bossy person, but there are some areas where I start to resemble an invertebrate *dealing with my family cough cough*.   I had a conversation with some family members a month ago that was very difficult, in which I attempted to establish important boundaries. Basic ones, like if you’re violent I will call the police.  Or, I will take action to help you, but I cannot listen to you tell me personal information I should not know.  I had not read this book at the time that we had that confrontation, so this is more of a retroactive reflection on that intervention.  Although the book deals with Borderline Personality Disorder, I think its guidance for setting boundaries is relevant to many situations when you are getting stepped on.  For those of you who haven’t had your own confrontation yet, here is what I learned from Stop Walking on Eggshells about setting boundaries:

What are some reasonable boundaries?

I was skeptical about the notion of demanding that a sick person (read: crazy person) respect boundaries.  After all, there is something wrong with them or they wouldn’t act this way.  However, the authors point out that if this person is capable of not treating everyone this way – professional colleagues, or friends, or people in public – then they are capable of treating you respectfully as well.  Duh, right?

It’s sad that of all the fundamental rights the authors list, there are really only 2 I am interested in getting.  Sure, it would be nice to have your feelings and experiences acknowledged as real, or to have emotional support, but basically I would settle for, “the right to be heard by the other and to be responded to with courtesy and respect” and “the right to live free from emotional and physical abuse.”  I don’t scream at other people, or call them names, or swear at them, or throw things at them.  I don’t deserve that treatment or treat people that way, and they should not treat me that way.  Is it pathetic how basic that is?  Be warned that reading a list of what other people consider to be fundamental rights and then acknowledging that you would personally settle for the two simplest is not necessarily the best thing for your self-esteem.

How do you communicate boundaries?

-Pick a time when things are calm.  (This seems counter-intuitive to me.  Why rock the boat?  Why not just go all out when things are already bad?)

-Be specific.  Not, “Be respectful.”  Try, “Don’t call me names.”  (I knew this from dealing with children.  It’s kind of amazing how applicable you will find any disciplinary strategies you might use on a 2-year-old.)

-Communicate one boundary at a time.  (Doesn’t this imply that you’re going to have to have repeated, awful, heart-wrenching conversations?  I went for communicating the core issues all at once.)

-Start with an easy one.  (See above.)

-Be consistent.  Intermittent reinforcement is damaging.  (This is where I see myself failing.  So I’m going to have to not fail here.)

The authors note that you shouldn’t get bogged down with whether you boundary is right or normal or expected.  Stick with this being your personal preference.  It doesn’t matter if they agree with you about the appropriateness of this boundary, but they need to respect it because you prefer it.  Shabam!

How do you measure success in setting your boundaries?

I liked this list a lot.  It made me feel like I did several things right, despite feeling like shit lately about the fact that my family hasn’t spoken to me in over a month:

-Did you respond as an adult, not as a child? C+ I wasn’t as assertive as I could have been, but definitely wasn’t 11 years old again.

Did you act in a way that demonstrates your self respect? Yes.

-Were you clear about your position? Yes.

-Did you remain focused, even if the BP tried to draw you off track? Yes.

-Did you remain calm and composed? Yes.

-Did you refuse to be baited and drawn into a losing argument? B+.  I wasted some effort trying to explain why it’s not my job to take care of this person, realized we didn’t share the same reality at all, and returned to the fact that this was my boundary.

-Were you considerate of the other person’s feelings, even if he or she did not give you the same consideration? Yes.

-Did you maintain a firm grip on your own reality while maintaining an open mind toward the BP’s concerns? Meh.  I wasn’t there to listen to that person’s concerns.

What if they don’t respect your boundaries?

You can leave the room, or hang up the phone, or stop seeing the person for a while, or stop seeing them forever.

What happens after you set boundaries?

I’m sure this depends on whether the people in your life are amateur crazy or varsity crazy, like the people in my life.  I would expect that they will try to punish you and then try to test you to see if you are serious.  You may have to decide how much you want this person in your life, and if the pain of not knowing them exceeds the pain of continuing to know them.  Please remember that just because you come from crazy, doesn’t mean your destiny is to live a life with this madness in it.  You can do better than your family did and you can choose who is in your life.  Their crazy does not have to be your legacy.

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I’ve been reading a book this week called Stop Walking on Eggshells about “tak[ing] your life back when someone you care about has Borderline Personality Disorder.”  Before you ask, no – the person in my life I am struggling with has not officially been diagnosed with this disorder, but the general idea behind reading this book was to help me learn how to make healthier boundaries in my relationships with my family.  I hate self-help books, so I thought I would condense the few useful facts I gleaned from this book and save you the effort of wading through 260 pages of why your feelings are valid, using I-statements, actively listening, etc.

What is BPD?

According to the DMS-TR (2004), it is “a pervasive pattern of instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image, and affects, and marked impulsivity beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by 5 or more of the following:”

1. Frantic efforts to avoid abandonment

2. Unstable relationships alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation (you are their savior, or you are a traitor)

3. Unstable self-image or sense of self

4. Impulsivity in at least 2 areas (like spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, etc.)

5. Recurrent suicidal behavior or threats

6. Mood instability

7. Chronic feelings of emptiness

8. Inappropriate rage

9. Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms

What’s the bad news?

According to the DMS, about 8-10% of all people with BPD commit suicide.  This does not include those who engage in risky behaviors that lead to death, like drunk driving.  BPD’s can be skillful at convincing you that if you don’t do whatever they want, you are being selfish and uncaring.  If you set boundaries, you should be prepared for the BPD to act out and make “countermoves” to test those boundaries.  Some people with BPD may cope with feeling out of control by giving up their power in some form.  They may join the military or a cult and seek to have other people make their choices.

Common misconceptions?

-It’s my responsibility to solve this person’s problems, and if I don’t, no one else will.

-If you really love someone, you should take their abuse because you are better able to absorb pain than they are.  

-This person can’t help being sick, so I should not hold them accountable for their behavior.

Coping mechanisms for dealing with someone with BPD?

-Minimize any visible reaction.  Don’t let them get a rise out of you, or they may repeat that behavior.

-Focus on the fact that you can’t control what other people choose to think or how they perceive reality.

-Stop “sponging” up the BPD’s rage or pain and start reflecting it back to them.  It’s not your angst.

-Set boundaries (which I will address in the next installment).

What is the biggest thing I’ve learned?

There is a section in the book on not withdrawing, and I was brought to my knees when I read this passage: “There is nothing wrong with leaving if you feel attacked.  In fact, there are times when it’s a good thing to do….The damage comes from remaining passive and silent, absorbing the other person’s criticism while your sense of personal power and self-esteem deteriorate,” (emphasis mine).  How many times have I sat through a phone call while this person raged and made me feel like shit, thinking that I could take what they were dishing out, but that they could not handle it if I hung up?

This post has been a downer, but soon I’ll be putting up a post about setting boundaries, so get ready to make some changes.

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