Please Note: The ideas contained in this FAQ are the opinions of the writer and are communicated without reference to supporting documentation in most cases. Other inspiration and influence for the writing came through consultation with other mental health professionals but the writer “Peter Quintano” is also fully qualified in DBT making him qualified to talk about the things discussed in this article.
For anyone who has ever struggled with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), or ever been in a relationship with someone who has BPD, the painfully obvious truth is that communication can quickly and easily deteriorate and turn into conflict/drama. There are reasons for this communication difficulty, although not the types of reasons that people without a knowledge of mental health might tend to believe, such as insisting that the suffering person wants to be difficult or create drama.
A more likely reason for repetitious communication difficulties in cases of BPD has to do with being unable to recognize and manage difficult emotions as they are happening moment-to-moment, resulting in ineffective/impulsive reacting. Communication problems are also strongly influenced by being on the receiving end of responses from others that increase (rather than decrease) the emotional challenge. Thankfully, these types of patterns can be noticed and adjusted when both the suffering person and the people she associates with are open to learning new approaches that account for emotional challenges.
A typical pattern of toxic communication that happens between persons with BPD and their significant others involves persistently skipping over emotional experience and more or less forcing logic. In these types of situations, both the suffering person and significant others are both probably ignoring the need to address emotions skillfully, meaning that both parties are in need of learning more about honouring and managing emotions. Instead of working together to solve problems, relate, and be mutually supportive, the emphasis is instead often placed on winning (“being right”).
Unfortunately, this emotionally neglectful approach to communication tends to activate emotional sensitivities that a person with BPD cannot yet manage alone. With each exchange of ideas and opinions that do not acknowledge emotion when emotions are relevant, layers of emotional pressure can multiply and fester. As the pattern of emotional neglect continues, the person with BPD usually appears more and more “out of control” and “irrational” because of the internal building pressure, and therefore, seems to be “the problem”… the sole cause and creator of conflict and drama. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The chaos of BPD is a co-created blend of emotional neglect and ignorance between interacting individuals.
One thing people seem to have a tough time doing – whether they suffer from intense emotions and BPD, or not – is to trust others with their feelings and make themselves vulnerable. Making oneself vulnerable means, for instance, to say what you are feeling out loud during communication and even asking for emotional support. It is as though this being human has become too dangerous (or too risky) to include in conversation, and so the futile attempt is now made over and over to leave emotions out of a discussion. To exclude emotional openness and support from a dialogue, however, results in only cold, calculating insensitivity and rationality, and so it becomes like a war of wills to see who can stand living the longest in this – arguably – less than human/half human way.
Functioning well as a human with strong emotions requires developing a healthy balance between emotional understanding (validation, empathy) and use of logic/reason (both in communication with self and while in communication with others). The notion of “balance” is what is meant by saying that healthy communication involves “two-parts,” and is especially important to remember when communicating with people who have emotional sensitivities and emotional needs that don’t just disappear as a result of cultural norms.
Indeed, we can’t be skipping over our emotional need areas and “push logic,” and then expect good results in our health and relationships. If emotions become part of the communication experience, then making them a priority to process is wise. To continue “pushing logic” while ignoring emotion is biologically obtuse – It just doesn’t work well for information exchange between humans, and in the long run may result in mental health, relational, and even physical dysfunction.
Even so, you will notice as you attempt to integrate ideas like this into your life, that it is easier said than done. Humans are creatures of habit and programming, and these parts of ourselves tend to die hard, even when we want them to die. Western culture, in particular, seems to favour logic and reason over emotion to fulfill its purposes, even though this way of being sets the conditions for mental illness. I believe it is priorities/balance issue that is an inevitable consequence of living in a free market system (being so insistently outcome, product, and profit-driven), and so the only thing we can do is to become (and remain) mindful of it.
Since humans are usually so well-versed in their use of logic and reason, this is why I tend to focus on the topic of validation in my writing (to encourage more balance in communication) – see validation article one and validation article two. Without attempting to create a balance between skilful attending to emotions and the typical use of logic and reason in our communication, the time and energy spent trying to be logical may be wasted. I say this because, in addition to sparking conflict and drama, ignored emotions also increase the odds of entirely ignoring the other information we share with each other.
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