The Impact of Borderline Personality Disorder on Relationships

All too often, family members, friends, fellow employees, and even therapists become reactive, judgmental, and walk on egg shells when they interact with someone who displays characteristics of borderline personality disorder.  Let me start off by summarizing some of the core characteristics of the disorder, specifically focusing on those traits which play out in the interactions with others.

  1. Affective Instability – This is where those with BPD struggle to regulate their emotions in predictable ways.  Often, their mood does not match with expected life or social situations, thus making it difficult for those around them to understand or relate to the distress they are experiencing.
  2. Fear of real or imagined abandonment – Those struggling with BPD are often afraid of being rejected, abandoned, or left alone emotionally. These feelings are triggered when the potential abandonment is indicated, as well as times where it isn’t.
  3. Identity disturbance – It can be difficult for those with BPD to maintain a consistent sense of self. There is typically a variance of self-doubt, instability in self-image, and self-acceptance.
  4. Impulsivity – Due to the emotional and personal instability, impulsivity is often a regular occurrence for those with BPD. While this may not feel disruptive for the individual, it can be highly disruptive for those around them.
  5. Paranoid ideation and dissociative symptoms – In certain situations, those with BPD may struggle with feeling paranoid, especially in relation to how they perceive other’s intentions or motives. Also, they may experience dissociative symptoms, which is a disconnect from themselves, their reality, or their sense of self.

What we need to understand about personality disorders is that they are just that, disorders which occur within the core personality of the individual.  This is important to consider, because it is extremely threatening to the individual when a personality disorder is suggested, or when a diagnosis is made, especially since it is difficult to be “objective” about your own personality.  Because of this, it can be very threatening for someone experiencing symptoms of BPD to identify and accept that the symptoms are present in their life.

It is my professional belief that the symptoms of BPD are treatable, and that through treatment, people can reduce the identified symptoms to the degree that they no longer qualify for the diagnosis.  This perspective can bring hope to those struggling with BPD, as well as those who are involved in their life.  However, the process of therapy can be challenging, and typically requires long term treatment.

Selecting a therapist who can treat BPD effectively is an important step in the process.  The therapist must be able to accurately diagnose the disorder, as well as position themselves in the therapeutic relationship as to control for and manage the identified symptoms.  A careful balance between soliciting BPD symptoms and maintaining safety and security within the therapeutic relationship is critical.  Failure to challenge the BPD symptoms results in no change, while doing so without carefully creating a safe therapeutic relationship will typically result in early or even immediate rejection on the part of the client.

Once someone with BPD can effectively accept the diagnosis, identify how the symptoms play out in their life, and learn new ways of managing and responding to the symptoms, then they can focus on the primary relationships in their life, and work on how they relate to others in new ways.

Written by Dr. Tony Alonzo, DMFT, LMFT, CFLE therapist at the Holladay Center for Couples and Families

Cleaning Out Your Marriage Closet – Couples Counseling

People are often worried about drudging up the past with their loved ones. There is controversy as to what is healthy for the relationship. People certainly don’t like to bring up an old fight when everything is going well. The issue is that we all have a closet of sorts where we hide everything that “isn’t worth the fight.” At first this closet is empty and the intention of putting things in there is good, you intend to talk about it later, it’s just not the right time.

The problem is that you enjoy the times you’re not fighting, who wouldn’t! You soon forget about what you’re storing in the closet, and you continue to throw everything “not worth the fight” into the closet. Your closet becomes full, and when you try to fit one more thing in there everything topples over. This is the fight of all fights, this is when you seemingly “loose it” out of nowhere about nothing and everything. This fight happens at a time when something was already “not worth the fight” and you were trying to put it in the closet. Therefore, you are probably not up for resolving everything in that closet either. It’s like if your junk closet toppled over just as company is coming over, you’re going to scoop everything up and stuff it back into the closet because you don’t have time to sort through it. This fight leaves everyone upset and confused and often nothing is resolved in this fight.

So how does one clean out this closet? Well its much like spring cleaning, you are going to take everything out and you begin to sort everything into categories. You evaluate if it is something that only happened once and will never happen again, if this is the case it truly isn’t worth the fight and can be thrown out. If it is something that continues to happen you need to address it, you will be bringing up the past not as a weapon against the other person, but as a justification for bringing it up as an issue. It is absolutely necessary that cleaning this closet is done at a time when your calm and you remain calm to be able to assess what the core of the problem is, what does their behavior tell you about your relationship with them. For instance, If someone is always late, how does their behavior effect you, why does it feel disrespectful to you and how does it create distance in your relationship, what is the message you receive about their feelings toward you. As opposed to judging their behavior as something you wouldn’t do and lecturing them about how it affects them.

When you clean out the closet you are transferring responsibility to the people it will be useful with. You will find that the cleaner your closet becomes the more clarity you will have in your relationships. Your intent in cleaning out the closet is not to change other people’s behavior, it is meant to change your relationships. You will find that some people will choose to become more distant because they are unwilling to make changes, but the relationships that become closer and the internal peace will be worth the distance in others.

Written by Madison Price, MS, LAMFT – therapist at Holladay Center for Couples and Families

When Teenagers Refuse to Accept Parental Influence

You have been there, most of us for the 2nd time around.  A parent offers a lifetime of experience, knowledge, and observance of others, and their teenage child refuses the knowledge, insight, suggestion, direction, or invitation.  Let’s explore how this plays out in families, and how we can approach these situations differently.

I know for myself, I was that teenager.  At the time, I felt like I needed to figure it all out on my own. My parents didn’t know my life, my situation, my perspective.  How could they get what I was going through, let alone provide accurate or helpful support?

I now find myself as the parent of three teenagers, and feel as though I see them clearly, and have excellent advice, support, and direction for each of them.  Of course I would, I am a therapist, however, my children refuse my support and suggestions on a frequent basis.

What’s really happening here, and what can we do about it as parents?  Although I cannot provide suggestions for every situation, I will propose an invitation to consider these dynamics from a different perspective.

First of all, we need to consider what relational process encourages the stance of resistance.  As parents, we want to feel valued in our role. We want to improve the next generation, and most likely, prevent our children from some of the difficult, painful, and regretful experience we have had in our life.  However, we typically deliver them in a manner which only reveals the constraints of though, belief, and action, rather than exposing the confusion, pain, and suffering caused by our previous and current actions in life.  

How would your teenager respond to you differently if they were afforded the opportunity to hear what those experiences were truly like for you.  Most teenagers will find it difficult not to get sucked into listening to those kinds of disclosures from their parents. Imbedded in these life accounts are lessons which they can then choose to interpret and implement in their life as they see fit.

Once we get around our teenager’s resistance, we then gain access to mentor, teach, and influence.  Do not take this as control over their decisions, as you are extremely limited in your ability to control your children’s thoughts, believes, and actions.  However, when your teenagers have no reason to resist, what are they left with? Its like engaging in a tug of war, and one side lets go of the rope. If there is no resistance, the attempt to pull on the rope becomes obsolete, and a new perspective of interacting becomes necessary.

I challenge you to attempt to do this in your own way with your teenager. The sooner you attempt to approach them differently, the more likely you will be successful in shifting your teenager’s resistance to your influence and create opportunities of connection which will influence them for the rest of their lives.

by Anthony T. Alonzo, DMFT, LMFT, CFLE

Telling Your Kids About Divorce

Making the decision to divorce is hard enough when thinking about only the spouses involved, add kids to the mix and things get ten times more difficult. If you are going through a divorce, most likely you are concerned about how your decision to separate will affect your children, and how are you going to tell them? As parents we are constantly trying to protect our children from any pain and suffering, the reality is that the news of your parents’ divorcing, no matter how carefully delivered, is going to cause some kind of pain, hurt, or confusion in the eyes of your child.  Although you can’t control how you or your child will feel during this stressful time in your lives, you can make the choice to commit to seeking out effective ways to handle and offer a positive healthy source of support for your children. Committing to this will allow them to adjust to the divorce in a positive way, and in their own way as you lovingly guide them through the process.

TIPS 

  • If possible the news of the divorce should come from both Mom and Dad together as a family.  During this conversation stress the fact that even though family life is going to look very different, you will both continue to love them.
  • Tell the children that the divorce has nothing to do with anything that any of the children may have done or not done. Reassure them that they are not the cause of the divorce.
  • Children thrive on structure, especially during transition periods. Keep a daily routine with school, activities, and their regular everyday life. Keeping as much consistency as possible helps the children to feel more secure.
  • Having some kind of a plan of what life might now look like for them can be very beneficial. It is comforting for them to know where they will be going to school, where they will be sleeping, and how often they will see mom or dad. Nothing is permanent in this arrangement but offering them some sort of idea of how their lives will and won’t change will again help them to feel secure. 
  • Address your children’s concerns. Encourage them to talk, scream, cry or celebrate. Help them to feel safe in expressing their feelings.
  • Lastly, make sure that they are told how much you both love them and how that will never change.

Studies show that children do best and have fewer long-term emotional, social or academic problems when parents can establish a healthy, respectful, co-parenting relationship. Transitioning into a new type of relationship and putting aside the hurt and anger that are associated with the broken marriage can be extremely difficult for many parents to accomplish. But through patience with each other and hard work, it can be done. Divorce changes families but it does not end your commitment to your children. Make sure you take the time to find the solutions that work best for your family to ensure a positive outcome for you and your children.

**If you or your children are struggling to deal with the life transitions involved with divorce, seek out professional assistance for individual or family therapy. The therapist can assist in encouraging better communication, and be helping all families members to properly heal and process the trauma of divorce.

 

Brandi Hess, MA, LAMFT

Brandi Hess has a passion for helping people to work through life’s difficulties, assisting them in finding joy, and the strength to reach their full potential. Brandi strives to ensure that she understands each of her clients’ unique needs. She provides therapy and counseling sessions tailored specifically to obtain her clients’ goals, in an individual or family setting. She offers a kind, honest, and straight-forward approach in therapy, allowing for trusting relationships to be built. She specializes in couples and family distress, pre/post-divorce, and adolescent treatment. One of Brandi’s many strengths is being able to connect with adolescents by creating a therapeutic environment where the adolescent feels safe and willing to start the process of change. Brandi works with a variety of concerns such as depression/anxiety, women’s issues, and trauma. Brandi received her Bachelors of Science in Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Utah, and her Master’s degree in Marriage & Family Therapy from Argosy University.

Family Therapy

Even the happiest families hit speed bumps along the way. Whether your family is experiencing major changes, experiencing a crisis, or things just feel off, you can find yourself wondering what has happened to our family? As your family grows and enters new stages of life, new expectations, and new life experiences in general, it can often be hard for family members to adjust and adapt. As these changes occur it is important for the family system to strengthen their communication skills and work together in the family unit. Change is part of life and is often something that adults and children are not comfortable with. Whether your family is overcoming a new transition or trying to adjust to the changing dynamics of your family system, seeking help from a therapist can help to create new ways of relating to each family member, strengthen communication skills, and learn better ways to work together so that your family can get back on track of enjoying each other through this thing called life!

 

Stayed tuned for some quick tips on things that you can do to help  strengthen your family!

5 Simple Tips for The Mother of a Teenage Daughter – Part II

Are You Even Listening to Me?

This may be a statement that we say as adults to children, but more times than not our daughters are wondering the same thing. Through your example you can teach your daughter the powerful skill of active listening. This skill will not only strengthen your and her relationship, but it will also benefit her in every other relationship that she has.

Active listening techniques include: building trust and establishing rapport, demonstrating concern, paraphrasing and repeating back what you are hearing, demonstrating nonverbal cues which show understanding, such as nodding, eye contact, or leaning forward and lastly affirmations like “I see” or “I understand”. As you practice active listening pay close attention to the feelings underlying the message, this is often the real message. Active listening allows us to connect and understand each other on a deeper level. Through genuinely listening you are showing your daughter that she is worthy of your time. In that moment she will feel that she is more important to you then whoever is texting you, or that mountain of laundry that is piled on the floor.

Repair Because You Care

People in healthy relationships don’t avoid conflict. Conflict is inevitable in any type of relationship, so practice dealing with the conflict head on. The sooner you address the conflict issue with your daughter, the less time there is for feelings of anger, frustration or resentment to keep building. Avoiding conflict will not only weaken your relationship, but it will also cement a pattern of not resolving conflict for your daughter. Teaching your daughter how to address conflict gives her the tools necessary to have tough uncomfortable conversations without being afraid. It exemplifies unconditional love and tells her that you respect her and value your relationship with her, even if you are arguing for the fourth time that week!

Check back soon for part III.

Written by Brandi Hess, LAMFT – Therapist at Holladay Center for Couples and Families

What to do if you are on a path of divorce – Couples Counseling

Marriage is never easy. Have you ever wondered how so many people seem to look so happy in theirs? Well – they might be, but chances are, they struggle too. The difference might be how you handle the struggle as a couple that can bring you happiness or not. It’s important to know that how you argue with your spouse matters more to the life and longevity and healthy of your marriage than the simple fact or presence of arguments in the first place – according to marital researcher John Gottman. Learning how to argue or fight fair is crucial to building a relationship that lasts. John Gottman outlines several important types of fighting that can harm your marriage. The first is criticism. This is where you directly complain and nitpick at your spouse. The second is contempt. This is harsher than criticism because you start to attack the character of your spouse instead of just what they are doing. The third is defensiveness. This is where you react with a defensive posture to things that your spouse does or says. Lastly, stonewalling. This is where you cut your spouse off emotionally and don’t engage in any way. John Gottman found that when these types of interactions are present in your marriage, that it’s in trouble. Come to counseling to find out what to do if you are engaged with your spouse in these ways of fighting. They can help fix and turn things around.

Couples Counseling with an Expert

Couples counseling, if done right, isn’t a refereed fight in a therapist’s office. A trained therapist will help you to identify underlying, unmet emotional needs after helping you to deescalate from the tension and fighting you have been experiencing with your spouse. The problem is that most couples come into therapy years too late and it is difficult to change course – to learn a new way. It is possible, however! John Gottman, a world-renowned researcher on marital stability and satisfaction, has found that it is not the presence of argument that causes divorce, but rather it’s how a couple argues that causes divorce. Knowing this, couples don’t have to ignore what they are feeling, but rather they can communicate it differently and in a healthier manner.

Marriage and family therapists are trained to do this type of work. This is a specific degree and license type that focuses on relationships between people (husband and wife; father and son; mother and daughter, etc…) as the point of intervention rather than just focusing on fixing symptoms (depression; anxiety, etc…). Its important to alleviating depression and anxiety and its crucial to build relationships that help someone deal better with anxiety and depression in the first place.

Pornography Counseling

Pornography addiction is becoming more prevalent in our society. Organizations like Fight the New Drug do a great job of educating the public on the harmful effects of pornography. What do you do if you struggle and can’t seem to find a way out? For many, the way out seems elusive and unobtainable. It’s difficult to find how when you have tried so many things, only to have this problem keep coming back. Many that come into counseling have already been before and are discouraged that they just can’t ‘get over it’. Knowing how to use the power or education and relationships is part of the answer. A good therapist can help you access both in your efforts to let go of this addiction. At the Holladay Center for Couples and Families we specialize in relationship therapy in regard to pornography use. Knowing how to communicate with your loved ones about this difficulty is an important part of the process.

Family Therapy

Families often struggle to communicate. We often work with families that have a hard time creating and enforcing rule and boundaries, co-parenting and dealign with adolescents and teenagers. A good family therapist will help a family develop relationship patterns instead of just treating symptoms (i.e., depression and anxiety). Symptom abatement will result in additional problems (really just the same problem manifesting itself again). Working on fundamental change will help progress continue past therapy. We do counseling for families in Holladay, Cottonwood Heights, Millcreek, Murray, Sandy and Sugar House.