When someone asks me what is the most important tool for supporting a loved one with borderline personality disorder, I say "empathy". I typically follow with "and many of us over estimate our own empathy skills".

What is empathy?

It is often confused with sympathy. Empathy it is distinctly different. Empathy is the experience of understanding another person's condition from their perspective. You effectively place yourself in their shoes and feel what they are feeling. Seeing things from another person's perspective isn't simply understanding their point of view -- it extends to understanding why they feel their point of view is just and appropriate and fair.

So, when your child returns from a therapy appointment and proclaims "I really like this one", it's most likely related to the therapist's ability to empathize and communicate it. We will not be able to motivate, coach, lead or redirect anyone without having this knowledge, too.

When Perry Hoffman, Ed.D. from Harvard conducted a study to determine the predictors of BPD patient recovery, she found the #1 predictor to be the presence of a caring and empathetic person in the patient's life. They were surprised that this finding.

It is worth noting that the architects of the DSM 5.0 recommended that a personality disorder be diagnosed when a person has diminished skills in two of the following -- either "empathy or intimacy" and either "identity or self direction". This raises two practical issues for us.

First, our child may very well have impaired empathy skills and so we don't want to mirror that back as a way to "teach them a lesson".

Secondly, as BPD traits tend to run in families, we may have had a parent that wasn't very empathetic and in turn, we didn't develop effective empathy skills ourselves. We may need to become very deliberate in developing empathy skills now and seek the advice of others to help us to better "step in the shoes" of our child.

The five levels of empathy as defined by the DSM 5.0 architects are in the empathy workshop. Want to know where you stand? Ask someone very close to you - ask your children - don't make a self-assessment.

Helping each other to grow to be more empathetic is one very important way we help each other at

This 3 minute video is a good starting point.
The Importance of Empathy Skills

~ Skip

BPDFamily Empathy Model

Set Aside Personal Beliefs, Concerns and Agenda - Just for now, at least. Go into the conversation empty handed—with no personal expectations or goal of fixing anyone. Be willing to have your mind and perspective changed. Your only agenda is listening and trying to understand the other’s point of view.

Remove Ourselves / Gain Perspective - When you take things personally, you cannot separate yourself enough to feel the other person’s pain. Detach enough so that you are not in a emotionally heightened state— do not allowing the other person’s behavior to upset you or trigger you.

Be Present/ Be an Active Listener - Listen to the person in the moment, truly utilizing the skills of actively listening. Don't jump ahead, re-frame what they are saying and compare it to a personal experience you had, don't rush to project ahead, or to frame a response. When we do this we completely lose sight of the reason of our conversation in the first place, sharing information as a means to build, maintain and sustain the relationship.

Getting Beyond the Facts / Relate - When the other person begins to share, focus on their feelings. Think of situations that you’ve experienced in the past that are similar. Just think about this - connect with it - don't share it. This will deepen your emotional insight into the other person’s plight.

Talk to the Person's Inner-Child - When we visualize our child as their vulnerable inner-child we can lower and lessen our defenses, that will then allow us to want to preserve the relationship and communicate in an effective way.

See Empathy as a Lifestyle, Not an Event - Make an effort to heal the past hurts, to remember to accentuate the positive, and to nurture the relationship on a daily basis. Most importantly, be mindful that when we are angry we can do a lot of damage and set things way back..
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