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When a loved-one has traits of Borderline Personality

Monday, September 5, 2011

A Person with Borderline Personality Disorder Doesn't have the Emotional Language to Express Themselves

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Did you ever ask someone to scratch your back and they keep missing the itchy spot?

How irritating that is even though you ask them "to go up, now to the left, harder, up and down" and sometimes even shift around hoping they will get it when they are not.   It can be very frustrating if the other person completely misses the spot.  After awhile you just give up - - your communication isn't working.

This is not unlike communications with  our partners with  Borderline Personality Disorder (pwBPD).

A pwBPD doesn't have the emotional language to ask for what they need.  They often communicate "up, now to the left, harder"  when they really mean "down, to the right, side to side"

The "itch" is the hurt our very sensitive pwBPD feels inside. Often our partners don't even know how to process what they are feeling or put it into words.  As a result, some become demanding and controlling, some become mean and nasty, some give up and move on to someone else, and some just stop asking all together.

Can you imagine a lifetime of this? 

As they have grown up,  a pwBPD finds way to adapt - alternate ways to get their needs met - projection, mirroring, manipulating, sex, alcohol, drugs - pulling others into a relationship enmeshment.

As responsible partners, we want to respond appropriately. We listen to the words and the directions - we "scratch harder, softer, slower, faster, bigger circles, and up and down" in an effort to appease our partner. We think we are good listeners. We struggle when we fall short. We change and change and change. We lament over our failure to make things better.

What are we doing wrong?

Part of the problem is Borderline Personality Disorder.  Part of the problem is us. Trying to follow or pwBPD partner's words rather than learning to read their emotions and their actions.

pwBPD are mentally ill.  They are highly emotional beings, very sensitive, and misleading communicators.  When we stop responding to their  alternate ways to get their needs met - projection, mirroring, manipulating, sex, alcohol, drugs - - and instead learn to read the unexpressed needs - - only then will we understand them and be able to help them.

Authors:  United for Now, Skip provides support, education, tools, and perspective to individuals with a loved one affected by Borderline Personality Disorder. BPFamily is a non-profit, co-op of nearly 75,000 volunteer members and alumni formed in 1998. We welcome you to join our free 24 hour on-line support community with its nearly 3 million postings and grow with us as we learn to live better lives in the shadow of this disorder. For more information or to register, please click here.

Write comments
  1. Such wise words!

    Indeed, there is much we can do to learn to make communication easier, more effective and more meaningful for our relationships. Despite our natural inclinations and instincts, our well-meaning attempts are often destructive and, at the very least, non productive contributions to the situation.

    Having resources and understanding and skills we can learn is invaluable at getting to that itch! It takes work, it takes willingness, it takes us being able to admit our part of the problem and it takes patience. The end result, however, can be very rewarding and satisfying! Ahhhh, thats the spot!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. I think part of the problem is that people with BPD have and experience "extreme" emotions, so one minutes, he says "go to the right, harder" then next moment, he wants something else. It gets so confusing even for the sufferers. Their emotions are so intense that they are often overwhelmed and can't even put into words. So it is a real challenge for the loved ones to try to understand the meaning behind borderlines' words. Sometimes it is a way to manipulate and control in order to meet her needs.

  3. How do you communicate with the BPD partner when they project so heavily onto you, so much so that they accuse you of having the disorder and deny its their issue? I've lived the past 2 years of being manipulated into believing that I have the disorder, yet I function normally in every other aspect of my life... She believes so intently in the fact that I have the "disease" as she calls it she has left. Is this an extreme case or is this normal for those with BPD?

    1. I've been in the same situation where after 2 years of daring she became blaming me for everything and saying that I'm the sick one. 8 more years and she sometimes admits it's her and back out of the idea in the same minute. 10 later we broke up for the 3 time. I met her after 5 months and she looked sick lost a lot of weight due to drugs, Alcohol, Depression. What's weird is I went with her a a doctor visit coz she had a cold. She was so mean to me and them also I noticed a strange act ( she wants to cry buy smile right after . She did it like 4 times back to back ) it was out of this world.

  4. I have tried hard over the past 5 years of our marriage and concede to the point of this article. I won't ever find the right spot. She does not even attempt to find mine - because carrying any of my emotional needs would just be too much for one that carries so much.

    I find it quite the irony that I may be missing the right place to metaphorically scratch the back of my BP. She will not even consider doing the literal scratching of my back and has declared she never will do it. So while I will never succeed in properly scratching her "back" she actually refuses to scratch mine - both in a physical sense and the emotional one. Merry Christmas and an Happy New Year to all that suffer with their BP.

  5. I believe bpd is “Inability of individual to control or regulate the intensity of response to every emotion whether in past, present or future is a prime symptom in this disorder, i.e. if a emotion(thought) suppose generates(trigger) depression of level 1 in a healthy subject, in case of bpd due to his unability to regulate the emotion, depression might go up to 20 times of normal(this number is just an indicative & hypothetical for understanding & will vary from person to person), similar thing will happen in anger, fear, boredom, suspicious, anxiety, sexual feelings, creativity, innovative, excitement and other different aspect of human emotional thought process, it is very unlike Bipolar & the episodes in bpd last for only few hours but the frequency is far too rapid and increases if not treated.

    An analogy can be drawn with patient of blood pressure and diabetes as the intensity of patients suffering from these diseases differ similarly intensity of bpd patients differ.”

  6. I hope that someone is still watching this thread because while I understand the advice and the underlying theme, that being to read unexpressed needs but what tools are available to try and improve and maybe even master your partners.

    Specifically to my case, I am involved with a BPD woman whom I love deeply. During the infatuation and " needy " stage it was very easy to fulfill the above because she would express her fears and all I needed to do was pay attention. I would not only address each insecurity when it surfaced but I anticipated insecurities, so as to leave no doubts. For example when I left her apt, before reaching my car I would send a text saying what a beautiful time I had etc. This way, after walking out, she didn't have to spend a moment worrying if I might have thought otherwise and could hold that thought until next we met. At that point it was all about re-assurance.

    Then we hit another less desirable stage and suddenly we were using a completely different language than before. I know because my attempts to re-assure were not met the same way. Then one is left feeling that they are guilty of false assumptions.

    Right now for example, after a break and a reunion ? I am not sure what it is, there is a big cloud called a breach of trust over us. Fortunately because of the board I am on, I don't have to get into details in any relationship where BPD was not present, it might have been held in the back of ones mind but ultimately written off as a minor infraction.

    So here I sit with her saying, I need to trust you again before I am willing to commit and my having tried the " i love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you " approach ( because I do and also noting that two days prior to the " break " these were the subjects we were discussing together ) and this is met with " this is bad timing, I am not sure about us, let's take it slow and see. Meanwhile I have pulled away only to have her charge back. Not crying or begging, because she is too proud but simply suddenly when I was the one communicating, she had been the one. Now we are back at who knows what.

    There is no magic pill or recipe but while the various stages of a romantic journey with someone with BPD has been covered in great detail. I have yet to find the experts opinion on how to successfully navigate those stages, as the non lover and partner.

    I believe everyone here understands that each person is different but if the traits can be nailed down with such accuracy, at least some guidelines on how to try to keep things from derailing would be cherished, at least by me.

    I ask this question because the article thankfully seems to steer readers into trying to make it through, rather than give up and run.

    thank you !

  7. I have bpd..and as I grow more aware of it and more mindful of my life choices ETC..I notice almost EVERYONE I become close to seems to have BPD as well! Is this common for us to seek out and 'bond' with others who had BPD or at lease boundry or co-dependacny issues? I only recenly reazlize how unfair I have been ot expect people to read my mind :(

  8. I had no idea the depth of misscommunication on both my and my exbpdgf parts. It's been a long journey to see my part in this relationship. I'm codependent. This article is a great approach to understanding just how "off the mark" we can be, and unknowingly so. The communication skills I have learned here at bpdfamily have served me well and they work with everyone.

  9. This is a great blog. It sums up the condition and how we relate to people with this disorder quite well. As a man married to a BPD sufferer that I love very much, I have finally learned to relate to my wife on an emotional level. One of the most helpful sources I have founs id the staying board at

  10. I have bpd and I am really scared of pushing everyone away because of my insecurities.I feel that no one will ever understand what i feel,if only i had the power to show them what i feel instead of telling them maybe just maybe they would understand. sometimes i think that everyone is better off with out me and wish to go somewhere far but then i feel that there is no medicine or that anyone will make this feelin go away. who can help me? As i read and learn more about my disorder i understand so many things that i dident before but i still dont know how to controll my emotions.. or maybe i wont be able to ever. sometimes i feel like giving up but then i gasp on to the little hope that keeps me alive and i keep trying for some reason even though there is times when it hurts so much to breath.

  11. I'm definitely not as strong you as all are. I wish beyond everything that I'd never met the pwBPD currently living in my house.

    Every day, no matter how I try, there's a random possibility of something emotionally violent or personally degrading happening. She only cares about things that affect her and at the same time will inflict things she doesn't want done to her onto me.

    Just because I read that it happens with pwBPD, doesn't mean that I've come to accept it. Unfortunately, life circumstances dictate that I do.

    I know it doesn't mean she's bad or evil. But at some point, actions become more important than intentions. And sometimes she says she intends to cause pain. You can't reason with mentally ill I suppose.