If we suffered severe and chronic childhood trauma, particularly if, as a result, we have gone on to develop borderline personality disorder, it is likely that, without appropriate therapy, we frequently find ourselves in heated conflict with others, especially those others to whom we are emotionally attached such as partners or family members.
Indeed, one of the hallmarks symptoms of BPD is the experiencing of difficulties with interpersonal relationships.
We may have relationship problems for a variety of reasons that include :
- finding it hard to trust others
- being overly ‘needy’ and ‘clingy’
- misreading facial expressions
- transient feelings of paranoia when under stress
- being prone to outbursts of disproportionate rage
- being impulsive
- drinking excessively
- having psychotic or immature defence mechanisms
- being prone to moodiness
- being possessive
- wildly alternating between idealizing and demonizing others
- having problems ‘mentalizing’
- being ‘stuck’ in a permanent state of ‘fight or flight’
And, when a relationship ends, sufferers of BPD are liable to take it particularly hard, especially if rejected in such a way as to trigger reminders of childhood rejection (on either a conscious or unconscious level). Indeed, the emotional pain of such rejection can be as excruciating as severe physical pain.
Because of the frequent ‘love-hate’ relationships, BPD sufferers are prone to creating, the nature of the conflict between the sufferer and his / her partner tends to be cyclical and the first step is to become aware of the cycle and recognize its futility and destructiveness.
We also need to recognize the damage it is doing to our relationship; conflict leaves both us and the person with whom we are in conflict feeling bad. Indeed, following outbursts of anger and rage, BPD sufferers tend to experience overwhelming feelings of profound shame. So, in essence, everyone loses and the relationship is undermined (and is likely to collapse altogether in the absence of effective, remedial action being taken).
Once we have become aware of this destructive cycle, we next need to make a definite commitment to trying our best to break it.
Obviously, though, if one has had a long history of getting into high conflict situations with others, the process of change is likely to take time and cannot, of course, be expected to work instantaneously; one needs to learn and practice new social skills until they, in an ideal situation, become ‘second-nature’ and there will inevitably be setbacks along the way, particularly when one is under intense stress, is deliberately provoked or is facing rejection.
Of course, each individual will have their own set of personal triggers which put them at high risk of entering into conflict with another so the next step is to try to IDENTIFY SUCH TRIGGERS.
Not letting potential triggers set off undesirable behaviours also entails controlling impulsivity; you can read my previously published article entitled: Control Impulsive Behavior by clicking here. Also, you may wish to read my articles: Impulse Control: Study Showing Its Vital Importance and Childhood Trauma And The Development Of Impulse Control Disorders.
Once triggers have been identified, the next step is to rehearse in the mind how one will respond in such a way as not to create conflict or in a way that de-escalates any conflict that already exists. Using visualization techniques to aid mental rehearsal of one’s new, positive ways of dealing with situations that would have previously led to conflict can be particularly effective.
In his excellent book: The High Conflict Couple: A Dialectical Behavior Therapy Guide To Finding Peace, Intimacy And Validation (see image below to view on Amazon), Fruzzetti PhD endorses the above techniques and suggests using the acronym SET to help us to remember more constructive ways of dealing with conflict than we may have used in the past; SET stands for utilizing sympathy, empathy and truthfulness.
Assertiveness training can also help to ensure that a gentler approach to dealing with potential conflict does not lead to being taken advantage of.
Fruzzetti PhD’s Book :
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).