In my new book, "The Essential Family Guide to Borderline Personality Disorder: New Tips and Tools to Stop Walking on Eggshells," actually have two sections on communication: one chapter that is step 3, Communicate to the Heard, and one section on communicating about limits in Step 4, Set Limits with Love.
What is extrremely important is HOW you say something. Your body language, including tone, shouldn't be apologetic or lack confidence. NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION REPRESENTS 93% OF YOUR ATTUTUDES AND BELIEFS ABOUT SOMETHING.
Here are some tips from my chapter on talking about limits. Note the sample phrases. You can find out about the rest of the book at my web site, www.BPDCentral.com
. Ignore the numbers, which refer to footnotes.
*Be Assertive, Yet Gentle*
Use everything you learned in the last chapter about empathy and validation. Coauthor of Surviving a Borderline Parent, Freda Friedman says, â€śWhen the interaction is just focused on limit setting without any validation of the other personâ€™s wishes and needs, then usually neither person feels heard or understood or acknowledged. It might feel like the person with BPD is outrageous or manipulative, but he or she feels misunderstood and invalidated.â€ť
Remember that your tone of voice, facial expressions, and other body language communicates much more about your attitudes and beliefs than what you say. At times, you may want to emphasize the gentle side; at other times, the assertive. Body language is an excellent tool, and you can adjust it moment by moment.
â€˘ Use eye contact; be sincere, but firm and level.
â€˘ If standing, stand straight and feet planted on the ground. Wider stances and bigger
mannerisms show more assertiveness.
â€˘ Use a gentle tone that is calm and soothing. Lower (alto, bass) rather than higher (tenor, soprano).
â€˘ Speak at a normal pace, not too fast.
â€˘ Donâ€™t raise your voiceâ€”in fact, you may want to lower it a bit to show youâ€™re not in competition and so your family member needs to keep his low to hear you. Make your voice gentle, calm, and soothing.
â€˘ Stay close, but not too close, which can be threatening.
â€˘ Finger point or jab
â€˘ Increase the volume of your voice
â€˘ Glare or narrow your eyes
â€˘ Tighten your jaw muscles
â€˘ Press your lips together
â€˘ Look down submissively
â€˘ Thrust out your chin
â€˘ Clench your fingers into a fist with white knuckles
â€˘ Run your fingers through your hair
â€˘ Cross your arms
â€˘ Place your hands on hips
â€˘ Sit on the edge of your chair
â€˘ Kick the ground
â€˘ Invade the personâ€™s intimate space
â€˘ Bite your nails
â€˘ Pick your cuticles
â€˘ Strain your voice
â€˘ Wring your hands
*Make Sure Your Family Member Feels Heard*
Acknowledge the other personâ€™s needs and wishes and how important those feel, while at the same time establishing or reiterating the limits that have been set. (See "empathic acknowledgement" from the last chapter.) Use phrases such as
â€˘ â€śIâ€™m not trying for one of us to be right or wrong, but for the relationship to be the best
it could possibly be. I need XX.â€ť
â€˘ â€śIâ€™ve given this a lot of thought. I am learning more about myself and what I can and canâ€™t do and what I need. And I need XX.â€ť
â€˘ â€śI understand you think it means Iâ€™m selfish. Still, I need XX.â€ť
â€˘ â€śI am not trying to be controlling. I am trying to be open and honest about how I feel. I need XX.â€ť
â€˘ â€śIâ€™m not sure how to answer that. But what I do know is that things canâ€™t go on this way. I need XX.â€ť
â€˘ â€śIt is true that we donâ€™t see things the same way. I wish we did, because this isnâ€™t easy for me either. What I need is XX.â€ť
*Practice, Practice, Practice*
Practice the conversation as much as you can. Pretend your BP is in an empty chair and run through what youâ€™re going to say. Better yet, role-play with a friend, with your friend playing the role of the BP. If you are not usually assertive, try being more assertive in low-stakes situations, for example, telling a server in a restaurant if something is wrong with the food.
*Try Positive Self-Talk*
One way to drown out the roar of the border-lion (impulsive aggression) is to have a steady stream of positive self-talk. Self-talk is the chit-chat within our heads that goes on nearly all the time. Try positive, reassuring thoughts like these:
â€˘ â€śSetting and observing my limits may feel strange or unfamiliar right now. Thatâ€™s okay. All things are strange and unfamiliar until you get used to them.â€ť
â€˘ â€śIâ€™m feeling afraidâ€”but what am I afraid of exactly? Waitâ€”Iâ€™ve thought this through. Iâ€™ve made it safe for myself. Iâ€™m going to be okay.â€ť
â€˘ â€śIâ€™m working on this because I love my family member so much. She canâ€™t see this, but itâ€™s okay. I will see it for both of us.â€ť
â€˘ â€śI need to meet my own limits right now so I can meet his needs in the long run.â€ť
Author, "The Essential Family Guide to Borderline Personality Disorder: New Tips and Tools to Stop Walking on Eggshells"
(Available at www.BPDCentral.com