Words have power. Political groups know this. They know how to phrase positions to promote a cause: How do you say you’re opposed to a stance that endorses “Pro-life?” So, you don’t support our revered United States Constitution, if you protest a “Second Amendment” position? Individuals with BPD symptoms often engage their partners in conflicted, “damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t” encounters. Responding to these angry confrontations can be frustrating.
Amy tearfully complains to her boyfriend, Neal, how critical and deceitful her girlfriend is. Amy becomes angry when Neal asks more about the details of criticism and deceit. She becomes angrier and defends her girlfriend when Neal disparages her.
In the past, Neal would respond to Amy’s angry abuse with retaliatory anger and accusations. This, of course, only inflamed the interactions. Other times, Neal would say he was too upset to go to work, or would start drinking to excess, blaming Amy for his behavior. “You’re just trying to make me feel guilty,” she would respond.
Later, Neal would try to “humor” Amy out of her anger. He would laugh and say the conversation was ridiculous and act silly. This behavior enraged Amy. In the midst of her frustration she was not able to achieve distance or perspective to appreciate humor. She would only feel mocked, trivialized, and dismissed.
Neal’s best approach is to avoid “jumping in” with his suggestions and opinions, and instead encourage Amy to continue to express her feelings about the situation. If he can avoid escalating the conflict, Neal can also point out Amy’s hurtfulness. “Other than for the sole purpose of wanting to hurt me, why would you say those mean things to me?” This is expressed not to induce guilt, but in the hope Amy can step back and observe her own behavior.
Words can hurt, and words can assuage hurt. Careful and thoughtful dialogue with loved ones with BPD can allow sometimes challenging relationships to thrive.