Narcissistic and borderline personality patterns can make married life tortuous. They typically are manifest in partnership skill deficits that breed fighting instead of talking, creating high levels of depression and anxiety in both partners. Couples, married or not yet married, can address these fears directly by doing this free marriage quiz to assess whether deficits in the communication skills for marriage success are holding them back.
Do people say they find you difficult to interact with because of your hyper-emotional emotional reactivity, particularly when you are at home? Or do people in your inner circle manifest excessive emotional outbursts?
If you and/or your partner have these tendencies, habits or stances, here's some suggestions for launching a growth spurt that can increase the sunshine, decrease the storms, sustain longer connections in your relationships at home and at work, and make you more likely to succeed as a marriage partner.
Overcoming borderline personality patterns:
For folks whose style includes borderline personality ways of interacting, the first arena for growth is to develop new attitudes toward anger. If you don't want to fall into the borderline diagnostic basket, learn to step out and calm down instead of blowing up. Beware too of getting too mad at yourself, which will produce depression.
Anger is a hallmark of bpd. It's what drives the continual chaos and drama that earns many bpd folks the titles of Drama Queen/King and High Maintenance partner.
The quickee bpd upgrade.
Learn to stay in the calm zone. If you are the partner, interact only when both of you are cool.
A first step in the direction of staying in the calm zone is to learn about the nature of anger and the damage it does. Bpd anger outbursts often become bullying. "If you don't do what I want you are hurting my feelings so I'm going to get back at you!" Anger creates relationships based on coercion, not love or cooperation.
If you erupt often into anger, probably you believe that it's because you are the victim. "I've been hurt so I have a right to hurt you back," is a core bpd belief. Alas, it's a belief that can lull you into inability to sustain positive gratifying relationships.
Replace anger interactions with development of exit and self-soothing routines. Learn to recognize early cues that indicate it's time to remove yourself from a situation you can't handle. Remove yourself like a pot from a stove. Calm down. Return to the dialogue when you feel calm enough to stay calm and collaborative.
Frequent anger outbursts are totally incompatible with mature relationships. Young children get mad often. Mature adults rarely erupt in high-arousal anger.
Narcissists focus on themselves primarily, set themselves above their partner, listen poorly, insist they are always right, and typically have poor skills for living as a life partner.
Narcissists, by definition, are folks who succumb to an it's all about me orientation to life. This orientation blocks ability to hear others. Somewhere along the line narcissists failed to grow out of the toddler's ego-centric assumption that what I want is all that matters.
Narcissists can be very generous. When it comes to disagreements however, my opinion, what I want, what I want you to do blocks absorption of information from others about their opinions and preferences. Thinking in either-or, winner-loser patterns worsens this problem. "I don't want to hear what you want or think because then I may not get my way or win the discussion."
To the extent especially that narcissistic people listns poorly to others, they may be difficult to live with as a life partner no matter how handsome, beautiful, and financially successful they may appear to be.
To rate yourself and others on narcissism, you might want to check out my blogpost on 6 Sure Signs of Narcissism.
The quickee narcissism upgrade.
The key antidote to narcissism is to train yourself to take others' perspectives seriously. Learn the art and skills of listening, a topic I write about in an earlier PT posting. Retrain yourself to ask others what they think and feel. Seek to understand and become responsive to others' concerns when you and they differ.
As others answer your questions, focus on what makes sense about their perspective. Listen for what you can agree with. Comment favorably on what you can agree with before moving forward to add your own perspective.
To accomplish true listening you'll need to dump but from your vocabulary. But negates your prior agreement. It subtracts, dismisses and eliminates whatever came before, undoing your initial good efforts to understand others' points. Instead of using but, link others' thoughts and yours with either and or and at the same time. That way instead of indulging in the narcissistic patterns of ignoring and disputing others' viewpoints, you will begin to be able to add others' viewpoints to your own. I.e., you will begin to shift from narcissistic "My viewpoints are the only ones that count" to "There's two of us here and both of our perspectives matter."
Narcissism tends especially to block data regarding others' feelings. When a partner feels sad, anxious or upset, the narcissistic response is to personalize, that is, take the others' feelings as critical statements about themselves. If "it's all about me," what you feel must be about me as well. Narcissists therefore get mad instead of supportive when their partner expresses negative emotions like hurt or sad.
It may be that narcissists feel helpless when their partner feels upset in part because, having had narcissistic parents, soothing responsiveness may not be in their repertoire. Fortunately, positive responses for helping distressed others can be learned. The chapter in my book The Power of Two that outlines these skills is called Helping when your partner is hurting."
The Partner's role
Become an expert in four essential skills if you are going to try to build a satisfying relationship with a husband, wife, partner or work colleague who has narcissistic or bpd tendencies.
By the way, if you are wondering which label fits the difficult person in your life, that's because these labels tend to be poorly defined. They also often overlap. More often women get labeled bpd and men narcissistic, but in fact in general narcissism
1. Implement early exits from conversations at the first signs of emerging anger. If you cease to engage in arguments, there will no longer be arguments. By contrast, if you stay and keep talking with someone who shows signs of anger, you are taking an enabling role toward their anger, stoking the flames.
To exit, stand, start walking, pleasantly excuse yourself to go get a drink of water, and exit the room. Return as soon as you feel calmed. Initiate positive conversation on a safe topic before returning eventually to the difficult issue.
2. When your partner does not listen to what you said, digest aloud and validate his/her alternative perspective. Then put yours back on the table. Become an expert in "Yes, ...., and at the same time....."
A: "I'd love to go out to see a funny movie tonight."
B: "There's no way I want to go out. I'm too tired. "
A: "Yes, I can see you're tired. And at the same time I'm up for enjoying something funny. I'd be glad to pick a movie we could watch together at home. Then if you're too tired you could just go to sleep. How would you feel about watching an old Charlie Chaplin flick with me?"
This agree and add strategy enables you to give your partner a second and even third opportunity to hear you. Most folks do better on their later drafts of writing, and also of listening.
In addition, after your not-so-good-at-listening partner feels heard, s/he is more likely to be able to relax enough to be able to hear your perspective as well.
3. Radiate sunshine. Narcissistists and bpd individuals, and all of us for that matter, relax when we feel loved and valued. The more agreement, affection, appreciation, smiles, sexual affection, hugs and other positives you both shower on your partner, the happier you both will be.
Dr. Heitler's articles on this blog on the subject of borderline personality disorder include:
For her articles on narcissism, please see 6 Sure Signs of Narcissism. therapyhelp.com, click Dr. H's blogposts, and then narcissism/bpd.
Denver clinical psychologist Susan Heitler, Ph.D, a graduate of Harvard and NYU, is author of Power of Two, a book,workbook, and website that teach the communication skills that save and sustain positive relationships.
Click here for a free Power of Two relationship test.
Dr. Heitler's latest book is Prescriptions Without Pills: For Relief from Depression, Anger, Anxiety and More.