Communication Skills for BPD

Communication can be difficult for everyone, but it is especially difficult to communicate effectively if you have borderline personality disorder. It can feel like no matter how you express yourself, no one understands how you really feel which can be immensely frustrating. Learning some communication skills can make it easier to express your needs and thoughts and be clearly understood. 



group of three young adults talking
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For effective communication to occur, there must be a general level of trust between the parties; this is especially true for personal and intimate relationships. In general, the more intimate the relationship, the greater the level of trust is needed. For example, if you do not trust your partner, you will not be able to be vulnerable, relay your disappointment or ask for things from your significant other. Trust is essential in order to have a meaningful dialogue. 



It is important to remember to breathe during conversations, especially difficult ones. During an emotional or confrontational discussion, you may find yourself holding your breath or fuming, which can worsen your feelings of anger and frustration. Taking slow and deep breaths is a way to keep the level of negative emotion down communicate more clearly. 



It is important to stay focused on the topic at hand. There is a tendency to bring in past issues to defend or accuse, but this should be avoided. Bringing up the past does nothing but confuse and deflect the issue at hand. Remember the past cannot be changed, so bringing it up does nothing but add fuel to a potentially combative discussion.



During an argument, really listening can be very difficult. For many, people, they are just waiting for their time to speak. If effective communication is going to take place, it is important to really listen to try to understand what the other person is saying, even if it is something that you may not like.

Listening and repeating what you heard being said, is the best way to ensure that you have actually “heard” what the other person is telling you.



Even when you do not agree with what the other person is saying, it is helpful to try to understand their point of view. By understanding the other person’s point of view, you are simply moving toward resolution and effective communication. You cannot communicate your point of view without understanding where the other person is coming from. 


I Statements

"I Statements" are one of the most powerful tools in communication. Used correctly, they remove any accusatory tone in your statement and allow you to express your point without getting a defensive reaction. There are 3 important components to an "I Statement":

  1. Stating your feeling
  2. Connecting the feeling to an issue
  3. Stating what you want to occur

For example, instead of "You never include me in decisions", in the "I Statement" model, you would say, "I feel left out when you make decisions without asking my opinion. Moving forward, I'd really like us to sit down together to go over our options and make a choice together."


Take a Break

Sometimes it is important to take a break and not continue the conversation. The break gives everyone a chance to get some perspective, step away from the negative feelings, think about what the real purpose of the conversation is and how to proceed. All too often people will start talking about one thing which triggers negative thoughts or feelings, leading them to start arguing about something else altogether. People also spend a great deal of time looking for resolution in a discussion, when no real resolution is possible. Taking a break gives you both permission to stop the conversation once the point has been made.


Do Not Focus on Winning

Very often, people focus on winning or being right, which tends to mean that they are asking the other person to admit that he or she was wrong. When people focus on winning, others tend to experience this as having their feelings or perspective discounted or disrespected. This is only going to lead to defensiveness and escalation from both parties. Instead, focus on understanding the different perspectives.


Know Your Purpose

When having a discussion with someone, it is important to know what your purpose of the communication is.  If your goal is something that you are not in control of, communication is going to be frustrating and unhelpful. Often the only reason to communicate your feelings is to give your thoughts a voice. It is the responsibility of the other person to choose to take action if he or she wants to help you feel better.


Admit Responsibility

We all make mistakes. Sometimes we even hurt those we care about most. Allow yourself to recognize and acknowledge the less than admirable things that you do. If you hurt someone, even if you did not mean to, recognize what you have done and apologize. Once you have accepted the responsibility, the real communication can begin. It is important to remember that hurting someone or making mistakes does not make you a “bad” person. However, you also should remember that the person you hurt does not stop feeling poorly just because you apologized.  

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