When it comes to interpersonal effectiveness most people think this DBT skill set only relates to our loved ones and maybe close family. But interpersonal effectiveness is a skill set that can be used in almost every encounter, even those with whom you have just met. When it comes to those of you with BPD you will often unload on strangers and come across too strongly. Then there are the times when the smallest of issues becomes the biggest of problems causing the classic BPD symptom of ‘Unstable Relationships‘, so getting your interpersonal effectiveness right is the best way to prevent those sorts of things from happening…
I admit that I have not taught you a whole lot about interpersonal effectiveness over the last 51 weeks because it is not a DBT skill set that requires much teaching, especially when it comes to BPD, but certain core teachings are useful. The part I have taught you already is the “relationship” part. You should know by now how to be a good listener, to give people validation in order to get it back. As I said at the start, those of you with BPD can sometimes struggle to make friends and keep them (hence the Unstable Relationships symptom). But having BPD doesn’t automatically make you a bad friend, it just means you struggle to maintain the relationship.
So the part we really need to tackle with BPD is the symptom of “splitting” because this means someone is all good, or all bad. There is no middle ground when it comes to splitting. A person you have just met will be the best person in the world and you will want to make a connection very quickly with them because they are amazing, perfect and everything you want to be. Or they are the worst person in the world and you will come across as rude, shut-down and defensive. Hence the reason we need to use our interpersonal effectiveness skills in every situation we come across and we will do that with the acronym D.E.A.R. M.A.N.
D – Describe – Start any conversion by using clear terms to describe what you want. Don’t start by being assertive, or defensive. If you are talking to someone and you want them to do something, ask them politely, inquire if it is possible that they can do what you need of them. Don’t start with a list of demands and don’t start by talking to them at a hundred miles an hour. If you just want to say “hello” then just do that, don’t tell them your life story. Get a clear objective in your head about what you want to achieve in any conversation, this means sticking to the facts by avoiding opinion and interpretation. The goal is to get both you and the person you are talking to on the same page.
E – Express – Let others know how a situation makes you feel as clearly as you can. If you are feeling stressed, let others know that. But you should also express why you feel that way. You could say “I am anxious when meeting someone new because I am shy around people.” or maybe “I am a little nervous around you because you are a friend of my friend, so I worry you will take them away from me”. OK, so you might come across as a little forward, but it will serve you better than keeping that information bottled up.
A – Assertive – When you have BPD not being assertive enough will often cause you to beat yourself up at a later date. We all have those past regrets “I should have said this”, or “I should have done that!”, but by being a little more assertive you can learn to get what you want from most conversations, but do remember that it is a thin line between assertiveness and aggressiveness. When you apply an assertive approach, you’re reflecting equality of respect. In other words, you not only respect the other viewpoint or behaviour, but you respect your own. With aggressiveness, you respect your own, but not others.
R – Reinforce – This skill set is all about giving others validation as well as yourself. When someone approaches you in a friendly manner, return the favour! When someone comes across as positive and upbeat, why not try and validate their feelings with smiles and optimism.
M – Mindfulness – IT doesn’t matter what you are doing in life or who you are having a conversation with. Being mindful is one of those skillsets that is useful all the time. Being mindful of how your actions might seem to others. When you are full-one with someone they might think you are too intense. But if you are a little more mindful of other peoples thoughts and feelings you come across as a much nicer person who they will want to talk to more.
A – Appearance – We have already learned all about body language, but now is the time to use that skill set. A good posture will make you appear much more confidant and in control, even if your mind is racing your body language is saying otherwise.
N – Negotiation – It is not always a black and white, Yes or no world and there will be times when you have to negotiate both in the spur of the conversation and to get your goals achieved. Do you really like this new person you are talking to and would love to get to know them better? Then negotiate with yourself and take the time to get to know them slowly. Or if you don’t fancy doing something for someone, who not negotiate and turn it into an owed favour. Or even better, why not negotiate you getting something out of it as well. “If I wash the dishes, can you help me put them away?” Or maybe they can offer you a lift to work sometimes. If you give a little you will get a little! But if you give a lot you should expect that amount in return.
Once again there is no homework as I would like you to try and put some interpersonal effectiveness into your daily life. Practise it in the mirror first, then just keep going over it in your head until it becomes 2nd nature. Put simply, there is no better way to deal with the BPD symptom of ‘Unstable Relationships’. People with BPD suffer from this because they can’t control how they feel to others, let alone themselves. Using this skill set will help ground you and approach each conversion and relationship as it comes. Using this technique for just a few weeks will make you much more confidant in meeting new people and much better to get your own (often manic) emotions across to others.