Communication Issues and Borderline Personality Disorder

A man and woman having an argument in a kitchen

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Communication is a problem in many relationships, but if you have borderline personality disorder (BPD), it can be especially difficult. It can seem like expressing how you feel is impossible.

You may find that no matter how hard you try, friends and families don't understand you. Similarly, you may have trouble understanding where your loved ones are coming from too. They may get frustrated by your inability to understand and may think you've distorted what they have said. This can be extremely frustrating for everyone involved; you may all end up defensive and argue over something that is misunderstood.

As a result of this miscommunication, it is important that you and your loved ones have:

  1. Insight into your feelings and experiences
  2. A general stated understanding of trust
  3. A common vocabulary

These tools will allow you and those in your life to be more effectively communicate.

An Example

Joyce, who has BPD, suddenly feels very angry with her spouse and begins yelling at him and accusing him of embarrassing her. Her husband, Bruce, feels that this anger came out of nowhere and has no idea what he did to trigger it. Joyce gets increasingly upset while Bruce becomes defensive, just waiting for this episode to end. Bruce tries to leave the room and Joyce suddenly fears that he is angry with her. Her anger is then fueled by fear.

Eventually, the anger ebbs. Although things are quieter, Bruce does not know what he did, and Joyce is frustrated that Bruce keeps upsetting her. Nothing can be resolved.

In this example, neither Joyce nor Bruce really understood what triggered the episode. Joyce was not able to communicate her feelings to Bruce since she did not have insight into what was causing her to feel angry in the first place. Once Bruce tried to leave the room, Joyce feared that he was never going to care for her again. Her lack of trust in Bruce fueled her anger. Finally, Joyce did not have a vocabulary to communicate her feelings/fears to Bruce, further complicating the episode and increasing her frustration.

It is just as important that the people in her life gain insight into the motivations and feelings of the person with BPD. If Bruce has a general understanding of how Joyce thinks, feels, and reacts, he can be better equipped to address her anger in a positive supportive manner; helping her get to her real feeling, and thus to the resolution.

Managing Miscommunication With BPD

In order to handle miscommunication issues and manage BPD issues, intervention and treatment are necessary. If you have not already, a therapist specializing in BPD can help you manage the disorder and learn effective communication skills. In addition, it may be useful for both you and your loved ones to attend therapy sessions together to work through common issues and misunderstandings to better your relationship and create a common vocabulary.

While communication in interpersonal relationships can be severely damaged because of BPD, through patience and continual work, you can better communications and improve your relationships.

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  • Allen, D. Responding to Borderline Provocations. Psychology Times, 2013.

By Erin Johnston, LCSW
Erin Johnston, LCSW is a therapist, counselor, coach, and mediator with a private practice in Chicago, Illinois.