Frequently I am asked, how does one communicate with an individual that has either Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or Borderline Personality Disorder? Indeed, both are very challenging disorders to say the least, and it often feels like nothing that we say or do is good enough. These disorders are quite rigid, not easily changed (as most personality disorders are not), and pose a great deal of frustration for those who interact with them on a regular basis, and/or are involved in close, personal relationships with them.
First, what is Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder?
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is quite simply, a disorder in which a person has an inflated sense of self-importance. It is, in the grand scheme of the country, relatively rare. It cannot be cured, but treatment can in fact be helpful. These individuals have a deep need for admiration of themselves, and their accomplishments. They lack empathy for others. Interestingly enough however, while they appear to the outside world to be 100% confident about everything that they do, deep down inside they have incredibly low self-esteem and cannot handle an ounce of any sort of criticism. They, contrary to what many would believe, do not love themselves. They portray nothing more than an image of loving themselves.
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) on the other hand, is more common, with an estimated 3 million cases presenting in the United States every year. Like Narcissistic personality disorder, it is chronic, and can be lifelong. These individuals suffer from unstable moods, behavior, and relationships. They tend to deal with a great deal of impulsive behaviors, and like narcissistic personality disorder have a difficult time feeling empathy for others.
Now, how does one communicate with these individuals without losing their cool?
First: with NPD: It is important to ask clarifying questions with them vs. making direct statements. For example:
‘What did you mean when you said…….’
‘When you stated (X, Y, Z), can you elaborate on that a bit for me? I want to make sure I completely understood you’.
Second, use humor. It goes a long way. Those with NPD tend to respond quite well to this. For example, if the person is talking about themselves, and how wonderful they are, you could say, ‘exactly! I would not have expected anything less !’ (while laughing a bit).
Finally, remember to separate the person from their behavior. Always. If you state to someone with NPD, ‘you are ridiculous… you are so annoying!’ . Be prepared for a fight! Instead, maintain your composure, and say something like, ‘I know that you did not intend to do what you did.. because that is not what you are about. I just wanted to let you know, that I was hurt, when you said, (X, Y, Z)’.
Now, onto BPD:
First, be consistent and reliable with these individuals. Remember, that their greatest fear, is abandonment. If you are chronically late, and/or don’t show up to something of importance, to most people, it is to say the least, annoying. To someone with BPD? You have literally, rocked their world. I remember not too long ago, I had to, at the last minute, cancel a live session with one of my online clients, thru no fault of my own (I was officiating a wedding that ended up starting an hour and 1/2 late). The client that I had to cancel, I believe, suffered with BPD. Because of that unfortunate incident, it took me weeks for this person to feel safe with me again.
Second, offer honest feedback. If the individual with BPD asks you for example, ‘Do you think I should have said THAT to that person?’ (and you genuinely believe the answer to that is NO), tell them, ‘I think you meant well, but perhaps there is a different way that you could go about conveying your opinion on that issue that may not come across quite as hurtful’. Unlike NPD, folks with BPD want you to be honest with them. Believe it or not. They do not realize often, the errors of their ways, and do not want to hurt others.
Third, Don’t take responsibility for their actions. Often I see loved ones/friends of those with BPD apologizing for the errors of their loved ones ways, because they don’t want to upset the person with BPD. Or, they try to fix everything for them. These persons, while suffering from a serious disorder, are in fact grown adults, that are capable of taking responsibility for their lives. Let them know that you ‘trust that they (you) will do what is necessary to take care of (X, Y, Z) situation’.
And finally, Beware of the individual’s trigger points. Chances are good, that if you have spent any length of time with someone with BPD, (and NPD for that matter), you develop an ability to see what triggers their raging, and defensiveness. Beware of those triggers. For example, if someone gets triggered by you running 5 minutes late, do your best to avoid it. And, if it is unavoidable (heavy traffic, stuck in an accident, etc. ), make sure that you are prepared to explain to the person (whether NPD or BPD) that you are aware of how important their time is, and that it must have been quite ‘annoying’ to them, and or-‘worrisome’.
When in doubt, VALIDATE, VALIDATE, VALIDATE!!!!!
I leave you all, with an excerpt from an individual suffering from BPD that I think really exemplifies the inner struggle of not just those with BPD, but NPD as well. Take in mind, that this applies to those that desire to get help for these disorders:
‘Please give us time. We are a work in process. Once we learn to truly love ourselves 100%, in a real and authentic way, pushing away wont be such an obstacle. We push away only out of fear. As if we were going to fall off from an edge’.