People who suffer from borderline personality disorder usually come from a traumatic and abusive childhood, where there was rejection, abandonment and an overall lack of feeling safe. People with borderline have an ingrained feeling of being worthless and unlovable.
The idea of intimacy is frightening to people with BPD, because they never had unconditional love in their early relationships with the adults who were supposed to be caring for them. They have a history of being betrayed at the most vulnerable level.
Why should someone trust a person, when they are sure that they are going to be hurt by making themselves vulnerable?
If you are dealing with a loved one with BPD, it is a good start to let them know that you understand why they would have trouble allowing themselves to be vulnerable. You understand that they were conditioned by their past trauma, not to open themselves up to trust other people’s intentions.
Babies and children are vulnerable and cannot care for themselves. Parents and caregivers are supposed to create an environment where children feel safe and loved.
Mental abuse in the form of “I do not love you when you do that” or “I will only love you when you do what I expect” is very damaging to the psychological make-up of an impressionable child.
Borderline personality disorder is usually a reaction to needing to survive in an unfriendly, unpredictable environment. One day certain behaviors were worthy of love and another day the very same behaviors were punished.
Often the borderline child, was the result of a narcissistic parent. Narcissists change the rules as they feel it suits them. They demand complete obedience of the child and withhold love from their child, when the narcissist feels that the child is a threat of any kind
Narcissists perceive many things as a threat from their children and teenagers including:
1. refusal to obey rules
2. failure to know when the rules have changed, even if the parent has not made the new rules clear
3. The child having opinions that are different from the narcissistic parent
4. Acts of free thinking, independence and autonomy of the child or teenager
5. Interacting with friends that the narcissist has not approved of
6. Pointing out things that are unfair
7. Standing up for themselves against the narcissist
8. Anything that the narcissistic parent did not approve for them to do ahead of time
9. Anything that the narcissist perceives as disrespect
The borderline is usually brought up in fear of retaliation of the parent. They were also brought up in fear of emotional abandonment, due to the silent treatment and other tactics of the parent. They may also have been in fear of physical abuse, if the parent was displeased with them.
Unconditional love is difficult for the borderline person to believe and to trust.. They were brought up that love and affection is conditional, based on how “good” they were.
There is also that feeling of being unworthy. This feeling of unworthiness comes from being made to feel that way, by the actions of the parent. The parent also may have told them that they were worthless, stupid, unlovable and a burden to the parent.
Jerold Kreisman, M.D. is the author and developer of the S.E.T communications theory. She developed this method of helping borderline patients because the borderline people were not responding to traditional Talk Therapy. They had trouble feeling that the therapist could be trusted because they have a general feeling that people do not want to help them.
Her theory is outlined in the book I Hate You – Don’t Leave Me
“Essentially, the S.E.T. communication pattern was developed by Jerold J. Kreisman, MD and Hal Straus for their book I Hate You–Don’t Leave Me.(link is external)
It consists of a three step communications sequence in which the non-BP first offers support to their borderline loved one(“I want you to be happy”); empathy (“I can see how lonely you can get when I go out with my friends”); and the non-BP’s truth; (“At the same time, having friends around gives me great joy, and I need some time with them to feel fully rounded.”) Psychology Today
The SET stands for three steps.
The S stands for SUPPORT. The E stands for EMPATHY. The T stands for TRUTH.
SUPPORT – The idea of support is to reassure the person that you truly want to be supportive and helpful to them. You can remind them that you think they are worthy of care and compassion.
EMPATHY – The idea of showing them empathy is to create a feeling of trust. The borderline does not feel heard or understood. You have to let them know that you realize that they have pain. Validate and empathize with them about whatever they are feeling. Perhaps tell them that you can understand how they feel and that you might have the same feelings, if you were in their shoes.
TRUTH – This one is about helping the borderline person to see the difference between reality and things they may be feeling that are from trauma. It is also about helping them to see what their behavior is, if it is inappropriate or hurtful to others and what the consequences might be if they continue to behave this way.
This method is one of compassion and it has been helpful to some people. Everyone will not respond to this method. If they are too rigid and stuck in their black and white thinking , then it may not work. The person must be willing to try to see things in a different way.
The idea is to get them to realize that it is possible that their perceptions are not always accurate, but they are based on past trauma. If they can accept this idea, then this method seems to be a very good one.
I personally like the concept of this method and I think it could be helpful in dealing with other mental illnesses. Anyone that sometimes has trouble telling the difference between reality and perceptions that are coming from past trauma, could be helped by this.
* please note that some people have borderline personality disorder, and other people are co-morbid between BPD and NPD (narcissistic personality disorder). If you are being abused by the person , and they have the red flags of narcissism, you may be best to protect yourself and get out of the relationship. At least do some research on abusive personalities, to become more aware of what you are dealing with.