Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Boundaries and BPD: Communicating Boundaries with Love

When it comes to boundaries this is the hardest part of all. Communication. Discovering, understanding, and developing boundaries within yourself is all well and good, don’t think I’m downplaying the importance of this, but if we can’t learn to communicate our boundaries in a healthy constructive way, we’re still just a lame horse. It takes courage to work up to these discussions   Knowing the problem, but not saying anything about it…. Doesn’t help us or anyone around us. 

Fortunately I’ve done my homework so you can start on your work at home.

Often the problem with setting boundaries comes from miscommunication and feeling understood. Talking about how you feel in a way that is easily understood without leaving something open to interpretation isn’t easy. It’s important to accept that this can happen but if you remain calm and continue to talk with respect, you can get through any miscommunication.

When one therapist asked "What happened the last time you tried to set limits with your family member?" they heard tales such as these:

  "I told him he didn't understand my perspective; he told me I didn't understand his. It went in circles endlessly."

  "She accused me of being controlling and telling her what to do.

Engage those DBT skills. Be Mindful of your feelings, and the feelings of the person you’re talking to. Try not to judge your feelings, just express them. It’s also important to not to rank or place “value” of your needs vs. the needs of others. In a relationship the needs of BOTH of you are important.  You wouldn’t be sitting down with this person if they weren’t an important aspect in your life.

Three Keys to Setting Limits [1]

1.  Steering clear of FOG: fear, obligation, and guilt. FOG also comes up like little wisps of smoke during limit-setting conversations. If you don’t prepare for it, it can blur your vision and make it hard to see and remember what you want and need.

2.  Trusting your own perceptions, feelings, and opinions—most significantly, those about yourself. You have the right to your own beliefs, even if they are different from those of a family member.

3.  Refusing to rescue your family member from your limits, which gives mixed messages. If you always change your mind under pressure, you’re setting up a losing cycle.

Boundary-Setting Discussions

It’s important that you come up with a plan that can be your road map throughout this process. It can grow, shrink, or change a little as you go along, but it’s helpful to have to have something solid in front of you. Each of the following Five “C's” is a component of the plan:

1.  Clarify what your limit is. Be specific and start small.

2.  Calculate how much does not having limits in central areas of your life costs you.

We are so busy living our day-to-day lives that we don’t keep very good track of the things that gnaw at us. To maintain your limits over the long haul, you need to have conviction that the limit is necessary and appropriate. Conviction comes when you know how much it costs not to have the limit in place. The longer you wait, the more it costs.

3.  Come up with the potential benefits of having the limit in place (the carrot).

4.  Come up with consequences that you can put in place when the limit is not respected. A limit without consequences is known as nagging. These are things that you can do for yourself, like leave the room during a rage.

5.  Consider possible outcomes of each consequence, both positive and negative. Create contingency plans.

This kind of planning before limit setting discussions will give you confidence and staying power.

Above all be honest with yourself and your partner. It’s okay to say: I understand this need, I want to be able to do this for you, but I’m not sure I’m capable of doing that right now (though you may be able to work towards it in the future).  And sometimes you just need to learn to say “no” too. Saying “No” is actually an important aspect of setting boundaries. Too often we are afraid to not say “Yes” when really we should have just said “No” from the start.

When you hear something from your partner that scares you at first, take a breath. Acknowledge that they are allowed to say what and feel what they feel (as do you). Don’t bother rationalizing. It’s okay to explain why a particular boundary is important to you and can increase your or your partners’ awareness of why this boundary needs to be upheld. However, don’t allow your partner (or do it yourself) to make you feel like you have to justify it. No one should try to rationalize or talk you out of something that is a core value for you. They shouldn’t try to make you feel like something isn’t as big of a deal to you if it is actually an important value for you. This is not to be confused with compromise on things that can be compromised on without losing a part of yourself. Sometimes we do need to compromise in order to function more smoothly in the world. Relationships are between two people after all, not about one person revolving around us. Remember, we’re looking to form healthy flexible boundaries, not construct rigid blockades.

Finally, keep in mind that you may sit down and discuss boundaries, but setting boundaries is not an Event. It’s a process. You may have to sit down and talk, come back to the table, re-discuss things again and again that have been working or not working after you’ve had a chance to implement them for a while. Even if it doesn’t work the first time, or the second time, or however many times it takes, as long as you’re able to continue the discussion you can keep making progress.

Below I’ll link to some posts on DBT that will help maintain a constructive thinking:

We also have our new Forum where you can bounce ideas and concerns off of each other if you want help prepping. Someone's always around. 


  1. Hi there, thanks a lot for these clear guidelines on borders. I find this the most difficult (as partner of a man with bpd) but think your advice can help knowing what my borders are and how to set them. So, thanks :-))

  2. How do adult children handle an 84 year old mother with BPD behavior who is incompetently navigating a hostile divorce from abusive partner? She has not consented to share Power of Attorney, has lost all family assets from her father but one remaining property, and is one more catastrophe away from showing up on our doorstep demanding we take her in, after years of reckless alienating behavior.


Leave me a comment! It makes me feel good and less paranoid about talking to myself =)

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...