This week we continue our series on Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).
BPD is a brain-based emotion regulation disorder that affects an estimated 18 million Americans. Usually appearing first in early adulthood, by the time BPD is accurately diagnosed, many close relationships may already be irreparably damaged or destroyed.
In our last post, I introduced you to one of the most powerful techniques loved ones can use to facilitate improved relationships with a BPD sufferer. The technique is called Validation, and in this post I will introduce the basics of how Validation works and how to use it.
Validation works by making approval of, appreciation for, and understanding of the BPD sufferer a priority over any other message that may be conveyed. Basically, validation is a technique that softens the delivery of a message without changing its content overly much.
Using Validation challenges the loved one of a BPD sufferer to find a way to stand in their shoes, understand what their world is like, and communicate from that place of empathy and understanding. In a sense, imagining that you have the same symptoms and imagining how communications might affect you in that case paves the way for Validation to have its positive effect.
Its usefulness in managing BPD aside, Validation is a powerful technique in its own right. Whether an individual suffers from BPD or not, Validation is still an important part of any trusted connection, and loved ones can draw from their own positive experiences of receiving Validation to use the technique with a BPD loved one. The difference between a non-BPD and a BPD individual’s experience of receiving Validation is one of magnitude of the need for it, rather than the necessity of receiving it.
One Validation exercise that can be extremely helpful is what Dr. Marsha Linehan, founder of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) and creator of DBT tools such as Validation, calls the “Validation Sandwich”.
Understanding how the Validation Sandwich works can streamline communications between a BPD sufferer and his or her loved ones.
When employing the Validation Sandwich to express preferences or feedback that have the potential to provoke an extreme reaction in someone with BPD, DBT experts guide loved ones to place validating statements before and after the potentially distressing communication.
In this way, the individual with BPD hears and takes in that they are seen, heard, known, and supported right from the start, and as a result they become more willing and able to hear out difficult communications with less fear of abandonment or rejection.
DBT-trained experts guide loved ones to become more acutely aware of areas where the BPD individual is behaving in responsible, emotionally sound, and healthy ways, and to make validating those behaviors a priority in any communication, whether light or more serious. Validation is not meant to sugar-coat the acting out of the symptoms of BPD, but rather to reinforce the visible signs of recovery progress.
Validation lets the BPD sufferer know that their efforts are noticed and applauded, and that there is genuine care and affection for the person, even if there is less tolerance for the behaviors as they occur. In this way, slowly but surely, the balance shifts to create a more trusting, stable foundation for future communications to occur.
Another popular Validation technique is known by its acronym – GIVE. GIVE stands for Gentle, Interested, Validating, and Easy in manner. Practicing GIVE reigns in a loved one’s propensity towards fighting fire with fire (by reacting in kind to a BPD-based outburst) and instead teaches a more effective way of fighting fire – with cooling, calming water. With GIVE, attacks or outbursts are met with gentleness and an even demeanor, with empathy and understanding, with the ability to sift the wheat from the chaff in behavioral expression, and with an easefulness that comes from sincerely believing that BPD is a treatable disorder and that the BPD sufferer has what it takes to recover.
GIVE, like other Validation techniques, is very affirming and reassuring to the individual with BPD, and has an equal effect on loved ones when they see that Validation truly does open up new lines of communication in previously strained relationships.
If you or someone you care about is suffering from symptoms that appear to be related to Borderline Personality Disorder, don’t wait! Seek help right away as BPD can be life threatening. At Southlake Counseling, our staff has received extensive training from DBT Founder Dr. Linehan’s Behavioral Tech Institute. We have more than two decades of experience successfully treating BPD through Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. We also offer supportive DBT-based skills-building groups for family, loved ones, and friends of BPD sufferers. These groups instruct loved ones in DBT techniques such as Validation and much, much more. Learn more at www.southlakecounseling.com.