When someone with BPD behaves in a way that seems to be intended to harm you, realize that the behavior is completely motivated by the desire to stop the negative/stormy emotions experienced by the person with BPD. She/he is doing anything to stop the pain.
Mistake #1: Getting caught up in the content, rather than the context, of a conversation I see this situation occur in many Non‐BPs.
Getting caught up in content, rather than seeing emotional context, is common and natural. Most people feel that they have to listen to the words, rather than the feelings behind a conversation. In the case of BPD, the feelings matter much more than what is being discussed. When I hear Non‐BPs saying, “but she said…” or “what she did was…,” it is a sure sign of being caught up in the details, the content, rather than seeking the emotional context of the conversation.
Instead of getting caught up in the details, it is more effective to look for the primary emotional
motivation of the words and actions of someone with BPD. Defending against, negating and/or arguing
the details and/or accusations of someone with BPD will typically lead to more dysregulation and to an
escalation of emotional behavior. Discovering the primary emotional motivations behind the words and
actions of someone with BPD can help the person with BPD know that they are understood and heard.
This feeling alone helps calm the waters in the interaction.
Mistake #2: When a loved one of a person with BPD invalidates the
emotions of someone with BPD, the result is shame and mistrust in expressing their emotions. The
shame comes from thinking of the borderline that: “My loved one tells me I shouldn’t be this way, but I
feel this way anyway, so I must be broken.”
What is invalidation? Invalidation is essentially the expression of the idea that it is not OK to feel
particular emotions, especially primary ones, like fear, anger and sadness. One should not do any of the
following in an emotional conversation with a borderline at risk of being invalidating:
• Make judgmental statements. “What you did was wrong…”
• Make “revisionist” statements. “If you had only…”
• Make it about your feelings. “How do you think that makes me feel?”
• Make “character” statements. “You’re too sensitive…”
• Rationalize another person’s behavior. “I bet they were just…”
• Call names.
• Use reason or the “facts.” “That’s not what happened…”
• Use “always” or “never” statements. “You always get yourself into these situations…”
• Label the person.
• Advising to cut ties or ignore the situation. “Just ignore him.” Instead, learning to validate the person’s emotions is a very powerful tool and essential to relating
Mistake #3: Thinking that their behavior is about you
Most Non‐BPs come to my support list thinking something along the lines of “how is it possible that this person with BPD, who supposedly loves me, can behave toward me in such an abusive and disrespectful fashion?” In other words, the underlying feeling among “newbie” Non‐BPs is: “what about me?”
In reality, little of a person with BPD’s behavior is directed at the Non‐BP, whatever the appearances. In
my book, “When Hope is Not Enough,” I have developed a concept called “It’s all about his/her feelings”
or IAAHF. Many people misinterpret this concept – they think it has a negative connotation. In other
words, Non‐BPs think IAAHF means “it is never about my feelings,” yet that is not the intention of this
formulation. No, instead, the actual intention for the Non‐BP is quite a positive one. What it really
means is that all of the behavior, words and actions of a person with BPD are motivated by his/her
feelings. In other words: “it’s not about you.” Most of it is instead intended to quell the negative feelings
experienced by the borderline. Once this concept is fully understood, it can lead to more freedom for
the Non‐BP emotionally.