People with BPD often fear abandonment, amongst other things. They also have difficulty forming genuine, healthy, and long-lasting relationships. Both of these qualities feed each other in a vicious cycle. A friendship falls apart, fear of abandonment is reinforced, panic or anger sets in, effects other relationships, they are damaged or end, rinse… repeat…
So the Interpersonal Effectiveness module of DBT is a VERY important one for someone with BPD to work through. (I also feel strongly that it would also benefit anyone in a relationship with someone with BPD.) This week, we started working with the actual skills (the first week is always an introduction of sorts) and the lesson was how to identify your relationship goals ~and~ identify the things that are getting in the way of being effective in a relationship. The worksheet on “Factors Reducing Interpersonal Effectiveness” can be found on DBT Self Help.
The most common things that interfere with someone being effective when interacting with others is lack of skill, worry thoughts, emotion, indecision, and the environment, and all of these factors impact my own role in a relationship in various ways.
Lack of Skill
Most people primarily learn behavior as a child by watching their parents interact. Well, in my childhood home, my parents either ignored each other, or my mom was yelling about what she wanted or didn’t get from my father. So guess what I learned to do? I either ignore the problem until it builds up or I explode at anyone I see as contributing to the problem… even if they had no idea there even was a problem. A lot of the adult (and even some peer) relationships I was exposed to were like that; and I learned the lesson too well, having the same pattern reinforced for 10 years during my first marriage. I never really learned how to interact with someone I was in an intimate relationship with.
This is a big one for me, and I believe for my boyfriend as well, so it impacts us quite a bit. I worry that he’ll leave me, or he’ll think I’m a bad person, or be disappointed, so I often don’t express what I’m really feeling, thinking, or needing. He has told me he often worries that I’ll leave him, or I’ll become upset if he expresses his feelings, thoughts, or needs. So here we both are, in this dance of not really expressing ourselves. The result is a comedy of errors of sorts, riddled with mis-communication, unmet needs, and confusion.
No surprise here. When I’m emotional, any relationship skills that I have are quickly tossed aside and are replaced with frustration, anger, sadness, disappointment, fear… any of those strong emotions that swell up inside. As a result, I’m either too emotional to think clearly or express myself in a productive way. And sometimes, I am so emotional I don’t CARE if I’m being effective. It’s like wise mind just takes a vacation and lets my inner bitch have free run of my mouth.
Often when I’m emotional, I just can’t think clearly. This also happens when I’m tired or hungry (especially when my blood-sugar drops). And when that happens, i become indecisive. I can no longer tell what I want, or how to ask for what I need. For example, when I’m hungry, I get to the point where I can not decide what I want to eat, and the only thing that ends up coming out of my mouth is, “I’m not hungry.” So more time passes without food, and at that point, even if I had an idea about what I would be willing to eat, it doesn’t matter. Often at this point, my boyfriend also becomes indecisive about what he should do, and this usually results in a pretty common argument in my house. Me screaming, “I don’t want to eat anything” and him getting more and more frustrated with my lack of cooperation when he says, “Just tell me what you want to eat”.
Most of my life, I’ve been in relationships where it was not safe to communicate my needs. My parents could care less what I wanted. My first boyfriend would beat the shit out of me if I expressed my needs. My ex-husband would ignore my needs, no matter how vehemently I expressed them. And quite a few of my “friendships”, including some pretty recent ones, were so toxic I was afraid to be myself. I’m happy to say that I am no longer in any of those relationships. I have awesome friends and a great guy who love and accept me AS I AM. But my sense of self and confidence took a pretty hefty blow while I was in those environments, and I still struggle with the after-effects.
So, how do these 5 factors effect your relationship skills? If we each take a moment to honestly look at where we could use a little tweaking, imagine how much smoother our interpersonal interactions would be. So take a moment to to think about it…. or even talk about it with your significant other. It may just make sharing your life on the borderline a little more enjoyable.