Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The 10 Essential Limits for Relationships and Borderline Personality

Ready for something new? I know I am! Especially as I have someone new in my life that I’m pretty darn excited about. With a budding new relationship it’s a good time to think about establishing healthy boundaries and limits… establish them from the onset, so things are able to develop in a more trustworthy manner. But even if things haven’t been established this way from the beginning, you can still establish them, albeit with a bit more effort, to create a healthier relationship.

Here are some excellent tips for establishing healthy limits in relationships.

Keep in mind that a limit is not about rules or telling the other person what to do. You can't control their behavior; you can only control your own. Limits are based on your personal values and about what you will do to take care of yourself.

1. No mindreading. Your job is to verbalize your own thoughts, feelings, concerns and preferences. By contrast, assuming you know the other person's thoughts and motivations (e.g., "You think that.." or, "You did this/said
this because....") is almost always guaranteed to get you into trouble. Mindreading is one of the biggest obstacles to effective communication; it is invalidating, provocative, and almost always based on misinterpretations.

One of the easiest ways to piss me off is to assume you know how I’m feeling and then to tell me how I’m feeling about something. Even if you’re correct (which people rarely ever are) please let me state my own emotions. It is not your place to speak for me. I’ll speak for me. You speak for you.

2. Build routines of taking a time out when things begin to get heated. People who are furious simply can't think straight; their brain is so focused on their feelings that logic gets thrown out the window. This is especially true with Borderlines and Narcissists. You can test this yourself. Think about something you said in the moment of anger that you regretted the next day (or week).

Talk about time-outs at a calm time before they are needed, letting your partner know how this will work and assuring him or her that you two will come back to finish the discussion when you are both calmer. (Your partner, of course, has the option of initiating a time out too.) Find a safe place that is sacrosanct to you where no one else can enter when you need to be alone.

Early exits when either of you is beginning to feel a temperature rise prevents unsafe, hurtful mistakes--verbal as well as physical. Take the pot off the stove by removing yourself early on from a situation you may not be able to handle calmly.

Routines are always good. It’s always easier to deal with situations when you have a basic idea of how they will play out. It’s the fear and uncertainty of how things will go that make them so terrifying. If you know that when things get heated, you will take a break, calm down, then revisit the issue, to discuss it in a constructive and loving manner, so both partners can feel safe, and especially so the Borderline partner has less fear of abandonment and rejection, then it is potentially less likely that tempers will fly and hurtful things will be said.

3. Regularly do things you both enjoy and share positive reactions to your partner. The two of you need positive shared time and interactions to keep the relationship connection solid.

Always solid advice for relationships. Too often people forgot to compliment and give positive feedback. You should never stop telling each other the good things.

Positivity makes relationships worth having. The more appreciation, agreement, affection, playfulness, attention, etc you offer each other, the sunnier your relationship will be.  And the more you give, the more you'll get.

4. Focus on what you can do to improve situations rather than criticizing each other. And if you do feel it could be helpful to say something to your partner about what she or he has been doing, offer it as feedback, not as a criticism or complaint. People with personality disorders take criticism very badly, so it doesn't work to change their behavior.

Instead, learn ways to bring up your concerns without being critical and triggering the other person's defenses (well, as much as you can for a person with BPD/NPD). To give feedback offer a when-you statement, as in, "When you xyz, I feel abc"). Especially avoid the phrase, "You make me feel."  That's blame.

                Don’t be critical. This goes for Borderlines and our Loved Ones. We’re often on the defensive from the get go. We do not take criticism well and very quickly feel attacked and provoked. If you want to accomplish something productively you need to learn to work within our boundaries so that we can function productively as well.

Remember that it's not your job to tell your partner what he or she should or shouldn't be doing. It is up to you to be honest about how you react as a consequence of your behavior. Your partner's concern for your feelings will tell you a lot about their capacity to show their love.

Just because you stop criticizing them won't stop them from criticizing and blaming you. It’s important to express yourself, but in these constructive, non-blaming ways.

5. Do not speak with contempt, ever. Studies have shown that couples who communicate contempt for each other are the most likely to break up. This principle is most important with regard to listening. Dismissive or eye-rolling as a form of listening dooms relationships.

Be kind to one another. I know this can be hard, especially when things are getting heated, but that is why it’s good it establish time off.

6. No hostile touching; no putting hands on each other in anger. No threats or hurting property, either. Have a zero tolerance policy. Men, take any physical aggressiveness by your girlfriend or wife seriously; abuse of men is an underreported epidemic. Document, document, document, and be in communication with the police.

Never put your hands on your partner. Even if it is a mild pat, your partner may exaggerate it and make false abuse claims. You may end up in jail and unable to see your children.

No abuse ever. Many of us already have a history of abuse so even threatening gestures can be triggering. Even if you don’t, you don’t want to start now.  I regret not going to the police when I should have. Domestic violence is no joke.  Even once is too much.

7. Each person needs to have his or her own space, private time, and friendships as well as joint ones. Keep up with your friends and family and never become isolated. Isolation is the kiss of death to your confidence level, well-being, and sense of reality. Find at least one friend or counselor you can be honest with about what's going on. You need outside perspective, even if that threatens your partner.

Codependency, enmeshment, and alienation are often problems in very unhealthy relationships. Alienation often comes with abuse. If your partner doesn’t like you having your own friends, throws wild temper tantrums when you go out without them (my Evil-Ex used to throw temper tantrums whenever the attention wasn’t on him), makes you feel guilty when you go out on your own or with others, waits up for you, does things to make you jealous while you’re out, does things to make you afraid to go out in the future, … all things I had to deal with, with him… then this is a sign of an unhealthy attachment style.  

It is absolutely healthy and actually beneficial to have your own independent friends and lives outside of your relationship. It’s impossible to develop a fully trusting relationship without room to actually establish space to trust that person in. If you never let someone out of your sight….

8. Take responsibility for having and managing your own feelings, verbalizing your concerns and preferences, and being responsive to your partner's concerns and preferences.

Two words: personal responsibility. These are two words that we as Borderlines don’t exercise nearly as often as we should… but we need to. Being emotionally volatile is not actually a justifiable excuse. 

I’ve owned up to my bullshit and fortunately I’ve worked on my issues to the extent where I’m pretty much past all of the outbursts and out of control parts. It took time and a lot of inner reflection, self-awareness, and work but it’s completely possible. I am responsible for my actions and my emotions. Don’t get me wrong, I still have my limits, and everyone has periods of justifiable emotional expression, but there are ways to do this that are constructive and not harmful. 

Relationships take two, so in so far as you can be responsive to (not responsible for) your partners needs and concerns, take on what you feel you can… Borderline and Non alike. This is not exclusive to either.

9. Come to a mutual agreement about monogamy (or lack of) so you are honest and on the same page. Do not put up with infidelity (however you define it) that goes against your values. With infidelity, your sense of self-esteem will take a huge nosedive and your marriage/partnership will eventually be in name only. Again, formulate strategies with a therapist [if you have one].

Relationships come in many packages these days. I’ve dabbled in many different types of  relationships, but honestly, and contrary to what I used to believe about myself, monogamy is actually where I find myself happiest. I tend to be too flexible to my partners desires though and this ends up making me resentful and unhappy. I need to be more upfront about my own needs so that I, and ultimately, my partner, can be happier…. Fortunately I’m already working on that ;)

10. Work on problem-solving, not blame, and find win-win solutions so "Your-way" and "Their–way" differences lead to an "Our-way" solution that you both feel good about.

The key to finding win-win solutions is to focus first on identifying your concerns. The solution needs to be responsive to all the concerns of both of you to be fully win-win.

It’s not about one-upping. It’s not about proving you’re the one that is right. When you approach an argument to prove you’re the one that is right, all you do is show that your partner is wrong, which means your relationship is going to lose. You’re in a relationship, together. For a relationship to thrive you want to come to a conclusion where you win together, even if that means putting your ego to the side. This is easier said than done for those of us with BPD and it will take time and practice to defeat the fight-or-flight responses we have had ingrained into our mentality to fend off the shame and anger, but with patience and practice we can approach problems in our relationships from a healthy perspective that is caring and productive.

Too often people worry about being right, instead of taking care of each other. I doubt they mean too. They just get swept up in the moment and instead of fixing the problem it becomes about blaming the other person instead of fixing the problem. It needs to stop being about placing blame, and start being about finding a solution. Criticizing the person, harping on the problem, and who did what and what the person did wrong, is not going to help. Instead try focusing on the end goal and focus on the things you can do to accomplish that.

Establishing these limits and principles is a great start for partners. It likely won't work if you try to accomplish them all of them at the same time. Start with the ones you feel strongest about, and move forward discussing and implementing them one by one.


  1. I really liked this list, insightful and good, relevant advice. I usually don't like these types of self help things because they usually make me feel like crap about life.

    But this was good to read. And not too highbrow which I like haha :)

    Good luck with this new relationship!

    1. ::smiles:: I'm not at all about making us or anyone feel like crap. We have a hard enough time as it is!

  2. "Instead, learn ways to bring up your concerns without being critical and triggering the other person's defenses (well, as much as you can for a person with BPD/NPD)"


    I feel like I put extraordinary mental effort into this (trying to be self-aware of how I'm coming across when self-unawareness wouldn't cost me in other situations) and she doesn't see any of it. All I get is "you'll never understand", or "you analyse everything". Even when I recognise that I've jumped the gun, and try and pull the conversation back to pre-assumption mode, it's going back or credit for recognising of what I've done.

    I dunno....I find the whole paradigm of "Mindreading is one of the biggest obstacles to effective communication; it is invalidating, provocative, and almost always based on misinterpretations" is a colossal waste of time. It comes down to maturity and maybe gender. I have relationships with my best buddies, where we are mature enough that if we're having an argument, and it becomes apparent that someone has made the wrong assumption about what the other is thinking, we just correct the assumption and move on. Voices get raised, tempers flare...and then it's like "Oh. You think I think 'x'. No, I meant 'y'" "Oh right. Then we're on the same page." Done. It's no big deal. I think this is true for men in general. There's no time for hurt feelings when you're out on the savannah dodging lions and hunting wildebeest. Just look at the workplace. When guys have a disagreement, it's ten minutes and back to work. With women (*generally*) you spend the next week, month or year trying to figure out what the hell is wrong. I certainly don't feel invalidated by someone assuming something about me. EVERYONE makes assumptions. That's what brains do. The human mind cannot function without a [frankly, pathetic] model of the universe around it. The amount of information of the world around us that our pathetic brains process is ridonculously small. Just take the infinitesimally small range of visible light within the known detectable range of the electromagnetic spectrum as an example. Whenever the mind is missing information, it has to fill in the blanks so that you are able to actually act. In order to make decisions, you have to have a model of the universe around (including people who are part of that universe). Whether you believe it or not, you make assumptions about what everyone is thinking to varying degrees. Now, I *might* agree with you if the statement was that it's invalidating for someone to *act* based on those assumptions, but even then, I tend to base my reaction on whether someone tried to hurt me intentionally based on their assumptions. I really don't feel a burning need to get everyone to hold off on what they think about me until they "get to know me better". People will make assumptions. If you're mature enough to understand that that is going to result in misunderstandings and misaction (sic), then you're more able to to handle situations gracefully and not think it's the end of the world if someone acts based on the wrong assumption about you. Of course, I exclude narcs, sociopaths and psychopaths from this "benefit of the doubt" policy. :) Still deciding what my policy for BPD's is. :p

    The irony with this piece is this...It claims that we shouldn't mind read because it's invalidating...but that's EXACTLY what women expect us to do....otherwise we don't love them enough. Exasperating!

  3. "Too often people worry about being right, instead of taking care of each other. I doubt they mean too. They just get swept up in the moment and instead of fixing the problem it becomes about blaming the other person instead of fixing the problem. It needs to stop being about placing blame, and start being about finding a solution. Criticizing the person, harping on the problem, and who did what and what the person did wrong, is not going to help. Instead try focusing on the end goal and focus on the things you can do to accomplish that."

    We know that BPD's have a tenuous grasp on reality as it is. Surely trying to find a solution *is* about looking at the facts and who did what. If one party can't acknowledge they acted in a particular way (because they genuinely believe they didn't), then the only possibility here is for the other party to "put their ego to the side". i.e. stick head in sand, brush it under the carpet. This is unproductive and exhausting.


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

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