Help for Families


Step 3: How to Cope: Communicate to Be Heard

Step 3 (or Powertool 3) in the Beyond Blame System is about listening and feeling heard. It's tough to communicate with people who have personality disorders because the disorder garbles both incoming and outgoing messages, causing massive chaos and confusion. As an analogy, think of them as having "aural dyslexia," in which they hear words and sentences backward, inside out, sideways, and devoid of context. You may frequently feel hounded about small trifles, and all-out fights can erupt over nothing—at least, nothing you can see. Research has shown that when friends and family members learn the right techniques for communicating with their disordered loved ones, the relationship runs much more smoothly.

However, if you are being yelled at or emotionally/verbally abused, do not fight with the person. Leave the area—go to a room or outside; a safe place you can call your own. Don't disappear; say something like, "Right now things are feeling too hostile and we aren't getting anywhere. Let's pick this up later when we've both calmed down."


Some Examples

Try deep breathing

When things start to get tense, always remember to breathe! When you get anxious, your body releases chemicals that turn it into a “fight or flight” machine. Your breaths get short and shallow. When neither fighting nor flighting is a viable option, this biological stress response wreaks havoc on your body and mind. It becomes even more difficult to think straight. Deep breathing will calm you down, help you concentrate, and give you a few extra seconds to think.

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Acknowledge What You Hear

Acknowledging, or more properly “empathic acknowledging,” is similar to the term validation used in Dialectical Behavior Therapy.

There are two steps to empathic acknowledging:

Step 1. Actively listen to your family member with 100 percent of your attention without interrupting, asking questions, offering solutions, or thinking about what you’re going to say next.

Step 2. Separate your BP’s distorted thinking from the intense, overwhelming feelings, and then empathically acknowledge those emotions to your family member without necessarily agreeing with the thoughts that link the two.

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Use B.I.F.F.

When communicating with your family member in writing (especially emails) keep things Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm. First I'll explain what BIFF is, and then give you an example. Before I do, let me give some friendly advice: don't argue via text. You will not get anywhere.

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