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Recently a reader brought up a very good point that I’ve been meaning to address: it’s *NOT* always the person with borderline personality disorder, BPD traits, or emotional sensitivity that is the instigator of emotional dysregulation and disharmony in relationships.
Whether it be family, romantic, a work or school place setting, or any other environment where a person with BPD traits is interacting with another, it can be so easy for everyone involved to default to blaming the emotionally sensitive person for upsets and issues that arise.
We must remember that individuals who do not have BPD, BPD traits or emotional sensitivity are also human beings with their own personal pasts, some who’ve experienced trauma which impacts how they engage in relationships today. In fact, they may have even more serious psychological issues that drive their thoughts and behavior choices.
Here are some examples of when a person with BPD traits may be doing their very best to stay calm and practice DBT skills and are still experiencing emotional dysregulation and intensity due to a toxic relationship or environment.
This term comes from an old movie in which a husband was doing things like leaving the gas stove burners on and telling his wife that she did it.
The wife knew she hadn’t, but with him persisting and doing things like this over and over again, she began to doubt herself and feared she was going insane.
Unfortunately, gas lighting is something that can happen in any type of relationship.
A partner may accuse you of doing things to betray them (flirting, having an affair, not keeping your word), and although you are certain that you haven’t committed these acts, you begin to wonder, “Well, was it maybe flirtation when I smiled at the checkout guy at Trader Joe’s? Maybe he’s right when she says I have been acting like a wh*re.”
Over time, comments from the gas lighting partner that had seemed unreasonable and even abusive make you wonder if maybe YOU are the one who is unreasonable and abusive. After all, you have BPD traits, right? But, what if it isn’t you?
The thing I love about DBT skills is that, through learning and practicing them, we can begin fact-checking situations that seem off to us. Perhaps we want to maintain a healthy perspective and balance the dialectic that it’s possible that we’re doing the best we can and simultaneously we have lots of room to improve.
We might think: I know I’m not intentionally flirting, definitely not having an affair, and I’ve been honest, but maybe the way I say things or my body language communicates something else, so I’ll choose to have more self-awareness around this.
So, you do some fact-checking. You use mindfulness and intention to observe your mannerism and how you communicate with others. You ask someone you trust to be non-judgmental and caring to have you run the situation by them and see if they have any feedback about what they’ve observed about your communication.
In the end, you conclude that it’s unlikely that you’re doing the behavior, whether your partner believes you are or not. You may be in a gaslighting situation.
If you haven’t already at this point, consulting with a qualified mental health professional about steps to address this and to leave the relationship or situation if desired is so important.
If you’re already easily dysregulated emotionally, experience intense emotions, and are still healing through your own trauma, you may be more susceptible to the manipulative behaviors of someone who is gaslighting. Getting some guidance around coping effectively can help.
You and several co-workers meet each week with your boss and interact about practice scenarios and how things have been going with sales.
You love what you do. You’re learning and gaining so much both personally and professionally, but there’s one problem: you don’t care for your boss. You default to thinking that it’s your fault that you just can’t seem to get along with her or tolerate the annoyances you experience when in her presence.
After all, you have BPD traits, right? It must be your perception, your issues, your fault that you can’t just take this training and accomplish what you came to accomplish without the drama. But…what if it isn’t you?
As mentioned in the section on gaslighting, other people have their own issues. They have their own egos, and not everyone walking around in a position of leadership or authority is caring for their mental health and well-being. Other people out there are dysregulated, too, including bosses.
Your boss also seems to have a different scapegoat of the week who she belittles in front of all of the team, and you never fully feel safe — you might be her favorite one week and the one who gets humiliated in front of your colleagues the next.
You might be dealing with an adult bully.
I’ll repeat what I included in the section on gaslighting: If you haven’t already at this point, consulting with a qualified mental health professional about steps to address this and to leave the relationship or situation if desired is so important.
If you’re already easily dysregulated emotionally, experience intense emotions, and are still healing through your own trauma, you may be more susceptible to the manipulative behaviors of someone who is bullying other adults. Getting some guidance around coping effectively can help.
There’s a theory out there that emotionally sensitive people tend to find themselves attracted into relationships with narcissists. Perhaps it’s because the narcissist’s behavior feels familiar (perhaps a parent or caretaker was narcissistic).
Narcissists lack empathy and tend to focus on their own needs because they have an overinflated sense of self-importance (i.e. they are the best/better than everyone else at something — or everything).
They may be charming, charismatic, and fun to be around — some of the time. But other times, they leave you feeling as if your own needs, thoughts, desires, and preferences don’t really matter — at least not in comparison to theirs.
If you’re already easily dysregulated emotionally, experience intense emotions, and are still healing through your own trauma, you may be more susceptible to the manipulative, selfish, self-centered behaviors of someone who is narcissistic. Getting some guidance around coping effectively can help.
The bottom line is, all of the DBT skills and coping skills in the world may not be effective if the environment or relationship you’re in is toxic or abusive. Check the facts, get support, and remember: it’s not always you just because you have borderline personality disorder, BPD traits, or emotional sensitivity.
If you suspect that you’re in a toxic relationship, talk to someone you trust for support and ideas for coping effectively and addressing the situation.
Hope this article is helpful to you in some way.
Debbie DeMarco Bennett, BSc., CLC
DBT Skills Coach and Teacher at EmotionallySensitive.com