I’ve been following my psych’s advice, “leaning into the discomfort” and trying to talk through the issues that are causing me anxiety. I have, however, been doing this poorly about 80% of the time. It’s all about tact, and that’s what I’m putting a lot of my energy into fostering at the moment. I know that a lot of the time when I’ve thought I’m being straightforward I have come off as hostile. I regret a lot of the things I have said to the people in my life since I’ve become ill, not because what I was feeling wasn’t valid but because the way I communicated these feelings wasn’t productive. I know this has caused the people in my life some hardship.
I’ve seen BPD compared to autism in regards to our communication skills. With both conditions it is common to be blunt, to say things that others do not respond well to. The negative response we receive often confuses us; we were just stating how we feel, why are they angry? With BPD this can lead to a thought spiral: they’re angry because they don’t really care or because they know we’re right and are just getting defensive. They really do hate us. When I’m in a bad place and feel like my world is on fire I can’t picture another reality, the idea that maybe they’re hurt really doesn’t occur to me. Push for reassurance and they’ll push back. Cue spiral restart, only worse this time. I hope this paints a vivid picture of how much our emotional responses can snowball.
Once again, DBT to the rescue! One of the core skillsets of DBT (dialectical behaviour therapy) is interpersonal effectiveness. To summarise, a list of things to consider when interacting with others to prevent us from being hurtful and actually give us a chance of having some of our needs met.
As with many elements of psychology this comes with acronyms. One of the most common ones for interpersonal effectiveness is DEAR MAN, a process we’re directed to follow when trying to communicate an issue to someone:
Describe the current situation
Express your feelings and opinions
Assert yourself by asking for what you want, or by saying no
Reward the person – let them know what they will get out of it
Mindful of objectives without distraction
Appear effective and competent
Negotiate alternative solutions*
It’s a lot to remember, and with BPD trying to ‘appear effective and competent’ can be like trying to unscramble an egg. Fortunately, I have a sneaky shortcut which achieves many of the same objectives.
Fair warning, I am about to give the most depressing piece of advice I think I have ever issued and it betrays every feminist bone in my body. Pretend you’re a woman in a meeting.
In case you haven’t heard of it, one of the most prominent dialects of the English language, Woman in a Meeting, is a style of speech which is often apologetic in nature and long winded. While it makes me sick to my stomach that so often women have to be so on guard with what they say all the time, the impulsive and emotional nature of BPD makes this cautious style of speech something we can learn from. And it’s a lot simpler than remembering the complicated DBT acronyms, especially so early in my recovery when I’ve already got so much I’m trying to process.
All you need to do is pretend you’re in a board room with a bunch of middle aged white men and phrase your perspective as something they’ll swallow. Just remember: preemptively apologise for being so bold as to voice your opinions and gracefully withdraw if it’s not going well.
Anyone who has been following this blog can see that my life has been messy lately. My friendships have become strained and I do sincerely feel ashamed of how I have handled a lot of situations. Following some tense message exchanges, a couple of friends came over to discuss how I was going and tension with mutual acquaintances.
The experience was tough, but it was also cleansing. I did my best to remain objective and use effective communication; lots of “I feel” statements. I listened without getting angry. I cried a lot. But I also felt that I was being listened to and just maybe understood, which is rare thing these days.
While lasting change will need to be a continuous effort on my part, it is really nice to be able to reflect on a positive change of direction.
* Copy/pasted because I’m a lazy lass – https://www.get.gg/interpersonal.htm