Borderline Personality Disorder and 'I Feel' Statements

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If you have borderline personality disorder (BPD), communication can be difficult. You may feel misunderstood or that people don't see where you're coming from. By changing how you communicate, you can improve relationships and feel understood.

What Are Feeling Statements?

"Feeling Statements" are one of the most powerful communication tools. Used correctly, they can remove an accusatory tone in your statement and allow you to express your point without getting a defensive reaction.

There are 3 important components to a feeling statement:

  1. Stating Your Feeling: This refers to stating your real feeling only, and it starts with the word "I." I feel ______. The tendency when discussing feelings is to assign blame first while downplaying the feeling. For instance, people often say, "You make me so mad," which typically causes a defensive reaction from the other person at the first word. A feeling statement keeps the focus on the feeling of the speaker which is less likely to elicit a defensive reaction and more likely to promote effective communication.
  2. Connecting the Feeling to an Issue: Once the feeling is stated, it should be connected to an issue or event. I feel angry when I am alone and you are out with your friends. Although there is some mention of the other person’s behavior, the focus continues to be on the uncomfortable feeling experienced by the speaker. Ideally, this allows the other person to focus on helping to alleviate the discomfort, rather than defending himself.
  3. Stating What You Want to Have Happen: Finally, a solution should be given. I feel angry when I am alone and you are out with your friends. I would like to be invited to be with you, even if you are with your friends. This solution may not be a real option but does allow for discussion. The focus stays on the feeling, and the goal continues to be alleviating the uncomfortable feeling.

Feeling Statements at Work

Here is an example. Both Susan and Karen are experiencing the same situation and feeling, but Karen uses a feeling statement, while Susan does not. As you look at the example, remember that feeling statements are often called "I statements" as the first word is "I" not "you."

  • Susan says: “You don’t let me say what I want to do.”
  • Karen says: “I feel frustrated when we talk about making plans and I don’t get to say what I want to do. I want us to both to have input.”

It is likely that Susan only got a defensive response. Perhaps the other person would start giving examples of how he does let her say what she wants to do, start complaining that they always do what she wants to do, or even complain back that she never asks what he wants to do. It is possible that this conversation disintegrated in a full-blown argument, leaving no one feeling particularly good.

Karen, on the other hand, was more likely to receive a response that focused on reducing her frustration level. Perhaps her ideas were sought as well as the other person’s and together they made a plan. To focus is easier kept on the present activity and activity and feelings, and not on blaming one another.

Using feeling statements takes practice, and it may be hard to use them consistently, especially at first. You may find feeling statements extremely difficult. However, everybody can learn to use these and will benefit from the non-accusatory communication.

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  • Johnson, J. "Are I Statements Better Than You Statements?" Psychology Today, 2012.