I – AM – MAD A skill to learn when you’re a loved one ofsomeone with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) By Bon Dobbs
When you are in arelationship with someonewith BPD, it can beconfusing. It sometimesfeels as if you’renavigating a maze-gameand one false move orword causes an explosionof rage. People sometimesdescribe it as “walking oneggshells.”
BPD is chiefly an emotionalregulation disorder. While thereare other aspects to the disorder,the emotional system of a personwith BPD is easily upset. A personwith BPD will react strongly andwith negative emotions totriggers, real or perceived, in theenvironment. The biggest triggerof these emotions is interpersonalrelationship events.
A person with BPD has amore sensitive emotionalalarm system than othersdo. It is as if your alarm isset at 80° F and theirs isset at 50° F. Their alarmgoes off more often thanyours. Yet, they still feel asif the alarm is real, even ifit seems like a “falsealarm” to you.
A person with BPD will Emotion Natural Reactionusually react naturally to Anger Attackthe emotions that they Sadness Withdrawalfeel. Sometimes you might Fear Fleefeel as though the Disgust Turn Awayreaction is an over- Contempt Judgereaction. However, it is Surprise Jump Back“normal” if a person is Happiness Laugh, Rejoicefeeling a strong emotion. Shame Hide or Deny Normal/Natural Emotional Reactions
The “carousel” of BPD Emotionalincludes emotional Dysregulationdysregulation, shame,impulsivity and apreoccupation with BPD Preoccupationattachment relationships. with Attachments ShameEach feature can increasethe “velocity” of theothers, causing rage,desperation and Impulsivitydepression.
If you’re anything like me(or like I was before Istarted down a path tohealing), you’re a “fixer”.You want problems solvedimmediately. Yet, the pieceof the puzzle that you’vebeen missing is thatemotional problems arenot solvable using logic.
In fact, an emotional persondoesn’t really WANT you to solvethe problem. They want to beHEARD. They want someone tounderstand how they feel. Theybecome frustrated with youwhen you offer advice orinvalidate their emotionalreactions. This presentation willteach you a simple skill to stopinvalidating how they feel.
First, a few things NOT to do when your loved one comes toyou in a highly emotional state. Do NOT: Make it about you. “I hated it when that happened to me.” Try to one-up the person. “Oh, you think you have it bad…” Tell them how they should feel. “You should feel blessed…” Try to give them advice. “What you really should do is…” Try to solve their problem. “I’m going to call that girl’s parents and…” Cheerlead (there is a time for this, but not now). “I know you can do it…” Call names. “You’re such a baby.”
Do NOT:Make “life” statements. “Well, life’s not fair…”Make judgmental statements. “What you did was wrong…”Make “revisionist” statements. “If you had only…”Make it about your feelings. “How do you think that makes me feel?”Make “character” statements. “You’re too sensitive…”Rationalize another person’s behavior. “I bet they were just…”Use reason or the “facts.” “That’s not what happened…”Use “always” or “never” statements. “You always get yourself intothese situations…”
OK, so what am I supposed to do?Understand that your loved one isfeeling something. That feeling isreal and unpleasant. The problemis not that they are “irrational” orthe “content” of the issue. Theproblem is that they feel bad.Empathize with the person. Seethe world through their currentemotional eyes.
Then, use the I-AM-MAD emotional communication skill.I – identify that there’s an emotionA – ask a validating questionM – make a validating statementM – make a normalizing statementA – analyze consequencesD – don’t solve the problem
I – identify that there’s an emotion Its best to do this with "feeling" words, like "look", "see", or "sound", rather than “know" or "understand”. Examples: “I see that you are frustrated.” “You sound aggravated.” “You look really upset.”
A – ask a validating questionThis encourages them to share their feelings aboutwhatever triggered them. Do not use “what’s wrong?” Ifyou use "whats wrong?" they will hear "whats wrongwith YOU?"Examples:“What happened?” (most effective because it is open-ended, requires more than yes/no answer)“Did something go wrong at work *school+ today?”“Want to talk about it?”
M – make a validating statementValidate the feelings expressed. This helps reinforce thatit is natural and valid to feel what they are feeling in thesituation. Don’t defend against blaming or projecting.Examples:"Wow, it must have made you feel hurt.""Yes, it is frustrating when it seems that someone istaking advantage of you.""Yeah, thats really disappointing."
M – make a normalizing statementBy relating the situation as common to all people or“normal” for them, this helps alleviate their stress aboutfeeling judged or unaccepted.Examples:"I think anyone would feel angry if they had to do that.""I would feel the same way if that happened to me."“I can see why you feel that way.”
A – analyze consequencesBy examining the consequences of both negative andpositive behavior with the person, you help them toseparate their emotional reaction from their behavior. Thebehavior may need to be changed, but the emotions arenatural and should not be punished.Examples:“When you yell at me, I feel disrespected and become upsettoo. However, when you speak calmly to me, I know youhave respect for me, so I am able to listen to you better.”
D – don’t solve the problemSolving one’s own problems helps to build self-confidence.Empower the person by getting them to come up with asolution themselves. When given the opportunity in a non-judgmental setting, most people will find that they cancome up with solutions to their problems.Examples:“How would you like to handle this?”“What would help you make a better choice next time?”“What do you feel like doing?”
It’s that simple. But it takesPRACTICE and HONESTY. Ifyou don’t feel it, it will notwork. Instead it will feel“fake” to the other person. Adapted from “When Hope is Not Enough” by Bon Dobbs. Visit: www.anythingtostopthepain.com
A particular slide catching your eye?
Clipping is a handy way to collect important slides you want to go back to later.