Affecting change in your environment. I hope that our posts two weeks ago were helpful to the loved ones supporting someone with BPD. I had really hoped to hear from some of you about how that experience was for you. Alas, I did not hear from anyone. However, there are a lot variables in ones life when they are struggling with a mental illness, so I don't take it personal!
Moving on. . . The idea is to get others in your environment to respond to you in a desirable way. Any person can be trained, not changed. Now I certainly do not mean that a person can be trained like you train an animal, that would be degrading to them, and I am sure if you got the idea that someone was attempting to train you like an animal you wouldn't take too kindly to that either.
No, rather the training happens as a result to you becoming more effective in your own environment. The easiest tools to use when dealing with your environment are conflict tools, because lets face it, the factors in your environment that need to be changed that you cannot change are 99.999999% of the time another person, and these exchanges you have with them that are making your environment painful are called conflicts. Interestingly enough, I purposely chose not to call them arguments. People can have conflict without having arguments.
So, some conflict tools that are easily obtained and can be quickly applied to ease the intensity of the conflicts are two simple strategies.
1- Use exit graceful lines - I briefly referred to these during this string of posts in "Factors that reduce our effectiveness". An exit graceful line contains a simple statement validating you and your partner, reinforcing your commitment to the relationship and recognizing the need to take a break. Not an indefinite break, but a brief break, therefore you will need to state the amount of time the break is being suggested for. advisable no longer than 24 hours.
The statement can be in any order, but it needs to contain at least all of the above points, it tends to function better as with any form of communication, if you validate the other person first. An example,
"I can see this is upsetting to you, I want to figure this out, I suggest we revisit this after dinner."
The key here is using a gentle, kind tone, which as we all know can be exceedingly difficult to do. When emotions are running high that can be the most challenging thing to do in fact, if we were able to control our tone, chances are we would be better equipped to control the conflict as well. However, there are some keys in getting this exit graceful line off without blurting out a vengeful "kill 'em with kindness" drippy exit line. No one likes to hear a, "I can see this is upsetting you (like you are so upsetable, man who wouldn't be able to see you are upset, the neighbors down the street can hear you are)" OR "I can see this is upsetting to you, (with my teeth clenched I say this, plastering a smile on, because darn it I WILL TAKE THE HIGH ROAD AND SHOW YOU HOW MUCH BETTER I AM AT THIS CONFLICT STUFF)" Right? Yeah, no good.
So when things are calm, no doubt you have a journal or some visual things to remind you of why you are making all of these changes in the first place, no doubt you have something that reminds you of how much you love your mate and why the two of you stay committed. So, when you are calm, write out your exit graceful line while you are reflecting on these reasons. The reflection of why you love this person coupled with why you are making these changes will help you to develop a few good exit lines that truly will be graceful because you know what you are working for, you will be able to draw on the reality that the two of you are in this together. Think of it this way, if you and your mate were having a picnic. It is a beautiful fall day, the weather is still warm enough that you do not need a heavy jacket, the sun is shining, the smell of winter coming in the air. You have prepared a wonderful meal, everything looks delicious. A leaf from the tree that you are sitting under falls onto the blanket, this leaf is disturbing to you. You begin to get upset that a leaf is ruining your perfect picnic and your mate starts to panic that you will go off of the deep end, you two start fighting about whether the leaf is worth getting that upset over, and in an effort to solve the problem not only do you spend your time arguing you get a match and set fire to the blanket to rid yourself of the leaf. There is no picnic to go back to is there? However, if the two of you would have stopped and realized that you are in the same boat, at the same picnic, your enjoyment at this picnic is dependent on both of you, it is a joint effort, instead of judging and blaming, you would have developed a way to get rid of the leaf swiftly and effectively and you would not have had to burn the entire blanket to do so. With a mental illness, sometimes what would seem silly or insignificant to a person in general, it may be very distressing to the person with the illness, and with repeated conflicts over these "simple" things, you and your mate are setting fire to your blanket. Making this exit graceful line, would at the picnic be like saying, "ok, I can see that the leaf is really upsetting to you, can we take a minute to take a deep breath and plan what we will do together, because it matters to me to keep this picnic nice with you, I am enjoying myself"
When you write it down, write some words that will act as a cue for you. Like, "breath deeply, I want to say this calmly" or, some have found it useful to write into their exit graceful line a sentence that will help bring their tone down a bit and acknowledge their challenge in doing this at the same time.
Like, "I know I don't sound calm right now, but it is important to me to let you know I want to do this effectively. . . "
The bottom line is, make as much effort to come off calm and gentle, validate your partner's feelings, state the importance for both of you to handle this properly, and make a "date" to return to it, preferably soon, but it can be up to 24 hours later. Putting this spacer in place from the height of the conflict to when you make your request, which is covered in the next skill, you will increase the chances of your request being taken seriously and will improve the over-all good feelings between you and your mate, which I am certain we all could use a little more of from time to time. Once you have written out a few exit graceful lines, keep them handy and when things get heightened, literally take out your card, pick one and read it verbatim from the card. It may seem silly, but it does work. There is no shame in using notes :)
2 - I notice & I request. We have all heard many times how using "you" statements are not an effective way to communicate. Well, here is another venue in which "I" statements should be used. This is an abbreviated version of DEAR MAN, as taught in conventional DBT classes.
The basic idea here is to quickly address the growing tension between you and your mate, make your request, validate and allow the change. Over time there will be change, whether you get what you are requesting or not is not the point. But here you will be training your mate, with each calm response to the emerging conflict they are more likely to concede to your request. Over time, at the very least, they may be less judgmental or critical of your "leaf" at your picnic. This works with large conflict as well as small. It is more effective with smaller conflict, where as you use the same idea with larger conflict, you may just need more time to really weigh out what it is that you are really requesting.
So, an example of this is, after you had your exit graceful line, and you have come back together (with the heavier conflict I would encourage 24 hours later, but with less intense conflict it doesn't need to be that long) this is the time to succinctly put the "I notice...when...and I request...in the future"
So, you and your mate are grocery shopping, the crowd is a little much for you and you notice that your pulse is up and you are getting short with your mate. You are tired and just want to be done shopping, your mate gets inpatient with you because you are taking too long to decide which item to purchase for dinner. You start to panic yourself, because you have become skillful enough these days to know that you are heading for a melt down if you don't get done shopping and into a calm, safe space. Your mate tells you that if you just hurried up you both would feel better and then he/she makes the attempt to wait elsewhere in the store while you finish shopping. This attempt to leave triggers you into feeling that he/she is abandoning you in a moment that you could really use some closeness, and you start to cry. Now, your mate raises his voice and says, "come on, this doesn't have to be like this"
Right here is where you use the exit graceful line, as much as you could use your partner to be there for you, the reality is the two of you need to step away from the situation or the conflict, so by taking ownership over the moment, you could say, "I understand this is hard for you and I, it is important to me that we learn an effective way to get through this. How about we take a deep breath and talk about this in the car on the way home"
Now you have put a little breathing room in for yourself and your mate, and you have shown yourself that in the moment you can take control, you still may feel as though you are going to puke, but you have taken hold of the reigns, now you do as you have asked, you take a deep breath. Finish shopping. Of course there are so many things hurtful about your interaction with your mate, but to pick it apart and outline what you didn't like and what and why you want it to be different isn't going to gain any healing now. And that is what the two of you need, you need to get some positive endings to conflict under your belt so that you can start building a road towards effective communication.
So you think about what really matters and you use say, "I notice that when I was crying you got angry with me, I understand that when I cry you probably get anxiety that things will explode, and I am asking that next time please don't raise your voice to me." Here we have what you noticed about their behavior that was triggering you, once again you validated their position, added AND to move into your request, rather than BUT, which tends to negate whatever was spoken in the sentence previous to the word 'but'.
Then, let it go. Yes, that will take practice but that is partly why it works. Your partner will start to see that you can calmly notice what is happening, ask for it to be different and it won't always end up in an episode. This is what does the training. Your mate is not heartless, they want to help, they just aren't skilled enough to do it at times. They will learn that telling you that "it doesn't have to be like this" won't help you, and that it doesn't improve the moment, but your clear exit graceful line to gain time and space and then your clear observation and request will give them something to think about.
Give it a try, write out a few situations that you could have used this method, get familiar with how it might look for you in your conflicts. Then put it into action with something small and see how you like it. Let us know what you think. I want to hear how you like it or don't like it.
Next week we'll talk more about other things you can do to help your environment that has nothing to do with your mate.