Thursday, January 17, 2013

How to Repair Trust with BPD

Last week I talked about the Trust Debt that depletes the foundation of relationships in our lives. This usually occurs because of actual, true to life problems that have legitimately betrayed our trust and necessitated the defense mechanisms that eventually overrun our lives. Hopefully, HOPEFULLY, we are able to get away from those situations as we grow up and become more capable of making our own life decisions. That doesn’t mean those defense mechanisms go away though, which is where they become a problem for us. 

So how do we learn to cultivate and restore trust in our current relationships when we have such a depleted ability to trust?

There are two areas where we need to focus in the development of trust.

  1. Before trust is broken
  2. After trust is broken

For those of us with Borderline Personality Disorder that are prone to impulsive emotional dysregulation we are often quick to react with fear in pain to a perceived problem. In regards to 2. After Trust is Broken we can further break this down into:

     1. After Trust is Broken.

         a.  Reactions to a perceived breach of trust
         b.  Reactions to an actual breach of trust

This second one has a little more nuance for us. We need to keep in mind that how we feel is how we feel and that feelings are valid. But we should also keep in mind that feelings aren’t always logical and because of our history of abuse and faulty defense mechanisms we may be reacting out of proportion to the actual situation. We have to ask ourselves some questions and learn to recognize situations where we are reasonably emotional in feeling betrayed, and when we are applying more emotional weight to a situation than is really necessary.

So let’s begin.

Trust is a two way street. Like so many things it takes two. All of the responsibility for having a trusting relationship is not all on one person. Both people in a relationship must contribute.

The first step in learning to develop trust (because we may have never properly learned how to do this) is to take an honest look at the people we have in our life, and the people we allow to come into our lives.  

Trust takes Two.
I’ve said approximately a million times: Borderline Personality Disorder is a disorder of relationships. People make us crazy because it’s people that tend to trigger us and we react to those triggers. Don’t mistake that as blaming though, it’s our responsibility to learn our triggers and to take responsibility for our actions. Anyways.

Who we allow into our lives is important. Not only for general living, but specifically in regards to our mental health. If we allow negative, abusive people into our lives we are obviously going to be triggered more often and generally more reactive and behaviorally more destructive. In my own life I’ve seen these patterns over and over. When I’m around nice, content people – I am more content. When I am around more destructive people – I am more destructive. We tend to be very sensitive to the people around us and the environments we are in. We feel that energy. We pick up on it. It’s like an air born toxin, poisoning our lungs until it’s in our blood and we didn’t even realize it until we’re acting out of our own emotional control. It hurts. Us and everyone around us.

1.      The very first step in learning to develop trust is to make a conscious decision about who deserves your trust and who you spend time with.

I know it’s not always possible to choose who you see; family, coworkers, friends of friends, etc… we don’t always have a choice about. But you do have a choice in regards to how much you share with these people and you do have a choice to limit your time with them.

It sounds simple doesn’t it? Don’t let douchebags in your life and you’ll be better off! Not rocket science here. But most people don’t walk around with a giant D on their forehead. It takes time for a person’s true colors to start showing.

2.      Take your time in getting to know someone.

Again, not as easy as it sounds all of the time. If you’re anything like me, you meet someone that grabs you and you throw yourself into a whirlwind of excitement and new experiences. You don’t even think about it. Before you know it you’re completely intertwined with them… AND THEN the cautionary fear kicks in. Like, thanks buddy, you couldn’t have showed up 2 months ago? Where were you before I started throwing my heart at this person? Answer: Drowning in the endorphin rush of excitement, that’s where. It’s so, so easy to get caught up in the high of new relationships, new love, and following your heart to live in the moment of ecstasy, that the thought of slowing down how good those things feels seems counterintuitive. Why would you want to lessen such good feelings? Because too much of a good thing, like alcohol, leads to something like alcohol poisoning for us.  Love poisoning. We rush in, and then before our brains have a chance to register our need for emotional safeguard, we’re jumping the fence into a minefield of emotions. Then we see the giant CAUTION sign and start to freak out, but now we don’t know where to step because the territory is unfamiliar.

TAKE YOUR TIME. Go slower. I know it’s hard. It’s tough to resist. But relationships begin at the beginning. So that’s pretty much where you need to start with the development of trust as well. Take your time to learn who each other are, so you can gauge whether or not it’s appropriate to place trust in this person.

Because when we don’t take our time, when we throw our lives in with someone that’s not trustworthy, when we bury our heart in their hands, it becomes so much more difficult to extricate ourselves from hurtful situations. If you’ve ever had a difficult time leaving an abusive relationship because you’re stuck in a love-hate cycle, you know what I mean. I wouldn’t have been so tormented by The One or by Evil-Ex if it was easy to follow what I cognitively knew what would have been best for me.

Our hearts are fragile. We need to be more careful with them. It’s worth it to invest more time understanding who the people in our lives are, before we give them something that’s proven to be so easily breakable.

Relationships are dynamic. Trust goes both ways. However, relationships aren’t tit-for-tat. They’re not about keeping score.

3.      Relationships are not about keeping score.

If you approach the development of trust in a: Well I told you this, but you’ve only told me something like this. Or I’ve done all of this, but you’ve only done that…. It will lead to a lot of resentment, anger, and ultimately the Dark Side of dysfunctional.  There’s no time limit on developing trust. Other people may not have the same needs or be as sensitive to their own emotional needs as we are, so they simply don’t emphasize things the way we do. It’s hard for us to remain calm about relationships we don’t know where they’re going or where they’ll end up. {Insert platitude about relationships are about the journey not the destination, blah blah blah}… but really it’s true.  When we keep score, put up a time limit, and try to force the play… we end up with, well, just another awful sporting event, and not what a healthy relationship should be.

4.      Communication is important.

If you begin to feel like things are a little too one-sided in a relationship or that they’re not as invested in something as you are, it’s important to communicate your concern in a mindful, caring way. Usually I let this stuff build up until it becomes a seething ball of anger and resentment in my chest waiting to burst forth like a xenomorphic Alien that we need to call Ripley in for to eviscerate. Then all you’re left with is a hollow shell of a dead relationship, and that’s pretty much the opposite of what we want.

5.      Demonstrate the trust you want to receive.

We are also responsible for being a trustworthy partner. Our behaviors and actions need to be trustworthy if we hope for the people in our life to be trustworthy. Here’s a list of things that are typical in developing trust. These are good to remember to do yourself, but to also be aware of in other people.

-          Do what you say will do.
-          Never lie.
-   Volunteer information. Clipped, quick responses with no elaboration make appear closed off and unapproachable. If you don’t want to share, other people won’t feel invited to share either. That doesn’t mean you need to overshare or share information you’re not comfortable sharing yet, but instead of a one word “fine”, elaborate on what lead to that conclusion.
-          Don’t Omit important details. This comes pretty close to lying. Or actually lying by omission. But
-          If you do have secrets, or it’s something you aren’t comfortable talking about… let that be known. You are well within your right to tell someone you’re not comfortable with the subject. Everyone is entitled to privacy. The key to being trustworthy while also maintaining your privacy is to make the boundary clear.
-          Set appropriate boundaries. Boundaries are important!
-          Don’t mask Truths. Again in the vein of never lying is not to mask the truth. Just because you can “morph” a truth into something that’s “technically” truthful doesn’t mean it’s honest.
-          Keep secrets. I mean keep other peoples secrets if they give you’re their trust. Do. Not. Gossip. When you gossip about other people, it’s automatic for me to believe you will also gossip about me. How you treat other people is how I expect you will treat me. Even if someone says, “I’d only tell you, or I would never tell your stuff”… I wouldn’t believe because I will believe you’ve told that person the same thing.
-          If you do lie, admit it.  Sometimes it feels unavoidable to lie. Especially when we’re so often fearful of being hurt or being taken advantage of and we feel the need to protect ourselves. For us this is often the result of a snap emotional response. When you’ve had time to calm down and re-evaluate the situation, ‘fess up. And explain why you did it. If you just continue to deny it, it will only reinforce the idea of not being trustworthy.
-          Speak your feelings. Communicate!
-          Tell the Truth. To be seen as someone that is trustworthy, you need to be seen as someone that tells the truth. So being honest is necessary.
Along those lines, if you don’t feel that you can be truthful with someone, that may be a red flag that they themselves are not trustworthy and you may need to re-evaluate their position in your life.
-          Honor your promises. Do not break your promises. Be dependable. If you act contrary to what you say, people will see it, no matter how good your excuses are.
-          Show openness. This isn’t easy for us because it implies relying on a person to you honesty as well. Be receptive to others, so they in turn feel capable of being receptive to you.
-          Be consistent in your behavior. This one is also often difficult for those of us with BPD because we are some of the most emotionally inconsistent people ever. I’ve written about that before, check it out. But you can…
-     Show your loyalty. This refers to your ability to protect others (not necessarily above and beyond protecting yourself, but you can do both), and to be on the same side… in their presence but most importantly in their absence.
-          Demonstrate a strong moral ethic. This is particularly important in relationships. You don’t want to others to betray you, so you need to be mindful that your own behaviors don’t falter or show signs of betrayal. Don’t give reason for people to doubt your ability to be true or dedicated.
-          Be fair. It’s often hard for us to remain objective when we feel slighted, which is why we need to work on our Mindfulness. Being 100% fair 100% of the time, is a little difficult to judge, but it’s important to remember that there are two of you in any given situation and both of you have basic human needs and rights. Be fair.

How about you? What helps you feel someone is trustworthy? What do you need from someone to help gain your trust?

Stay tuned. Even when trust is broken, actually or perceived to be, there are things you can do…


  1. Thank you for another great post. I know you have heard it before but I feel the need to tell you as well - keep on doing what you're doing, this is important work for those of us trying to make sense of our lives, and I venture a guess that it is helpful for you too to put it all out there as a reminder of all the skills you have built up to this point.

    I had a string of recent run-ins with someone who is very flaky about communication and I practically blew up on her and told her how it has eroded my trust...thus I found this post insightful. I may have overshot the mark in my reaction, but man - there are so many other factors to think about too.

    Thanks again.

  2. yes, once again, you have given me things to think about...thank you! I have developed some interesting trust issues over the years--this definitely aims me in a healthy direction.

  3. Great work. Seriously solid stuff. I believe emotional regulation is the key happiness/value fulfillment in life. I deal with this issue, hourly, everyday. For me attaching and detaching with the fullest sense of self.esteem is at the heart of my ability to really be engaged in experiencing.purpose. When i experience purpose, my social aliveness comes naturally. The thoughts of other unfulfilled areas n my life do still sometimes linger.(love, want of a good significant other). However, I recognize I am a person who is symptomatic of bpd, and diagnosed. As well as compulsive. Managing my compulsive immediate gratifying tendency is the entire key for estanlishing myself in the present. I do not do it perfect. I use tobacco now to buzz me, and am hooked a bit more than I prefer. No alcohol. I have been so balanced

    The key for me is finding stimulation in good honest relationships

  4. Thank you. Really interesting.

  5. I want to dance, to dance with you, under the stars, blue black my mood. Right here is where I can hold you close, and feel, ....just feel. Your hands so soft, your skin so warm, surely you can't cause me harm, so I open up just a little ....and you see. Am I acceptable for this dance? Could you put your hands in the back pockets of my pants? Just hold me close, and dance the dance, could you would you take that chance??? Sincerly, from me to you. ps, I hope this brought a smile to your beautiful face, I care for you, just because you are you.


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

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