How to Disarm a Borderline, Part VI: Respect Their Intelligence

Before reading this post, particularly if you are going to try this at home with a real adult family member with borderline personality disorder (BPD) (which is not recommended without the help of a therapist), please read my previous posts Part I (October 6), Part II (October 29), Part III (November 24), Part IV (December 8), and Part V (January 12).  The countermeasures described in this post do not work in isolation but must be part of a complex, consistent, and ongoing strategy.

This post will continue with specific countermeasures to the usual strategies in the BPD bag of tricks used by them to distance and/or invalidate you, as well as to make you feel anxiously helpless, anxiously guilty, or hostile.

Today we discuss #3, countering illogical statements and absurd arguments.

People with BPD will sometimes say the most inane-sounding things as if they believe them with all their hearts.  Things like, "I need cocaine.  I don't feel normal without it."  Or, "I should to be able to walk down dark alleys at 3 AM in seedy parts of town with $100 bills hanging out of my pockets."  Upon hearing this, anyone with a lick of sense will feel like talking some sense into the person with BPD.

This presumes, of course, that the person with BPD has no common sense.  In fact, it presumes that he or she is a complete moron.  If there is one thing I have learned over the years, it is that, despite appearance to the contrary, people with BPD have just as much common sense as anyone else.  Usually, they are of above average intelligence.  So why would they say such ignorant sounding things?

You were expecting a good argument?
The first thing to notice is that the statements above are actually true.  If you are addicted to cocaine, indeed you do not feel normal without it.  One should have the right to walk anywhere unmolested, shouldn't one?

The problem is of course that the cocaine is making these folks feel worse in the long run, and that taking such walks is a foolish thing to do, rights or no rights.

So the natural response to such statements is to want to argue with what the person with BPD says.  Of course, this is actually invalidating to the person with BPD, because they are intelligent enough to already know what the other person is arguing for.  In response, the person with BPD will then dig in and take the position, "My mind is made up; don't confuse me with the facts!"  They will then start making arguments that actually are stupid, under the theory that the other person expects them to be stupid! 

Individuals with BPD are extremely generous that way: they will give you what they think you expect of them.

If you want to make an obvious point as a springboard for a discussion, you have to use a disclaimer.  You have to acknowledge that the person with BPD already is well aware of the point you are making.  You might say, "But as you already know, cocaine is distructive in the long run."  Or, "Of course you should have the right to do that, but as I am sure you are aware, actually doing it is dangerous. I do not understand why you want to take such a risk."

An important caveat is that you want to keep your statements as brief as possible, and NOT go on to explain what you just said or give additional information that justifies your opinion.  The individual with BPD already knows why you think what you think, so there's no point in it.  Going on again presumes that the other person is stupid.

The individual with BPD may then explain why they want to take the risk, or he or she may not.  Generally, they will just drop the argument altogether.  This may not calm your concerns about the risky behavior of  persons with BPD, but as I discussed in Part V, you are really helpless to stop them if they are set on doing what they say.

What if the person with BPD does not drop the subject, does not accept the change in the conversation that you are suggesting (that is, talk about why the person wants to do something dangerous rather that argue stupidly about whether or not the something is dangerous), and/or says something that is inherently stupid? My advice:  Refuse to argue.  You might say something like, "I'm not going to insult your intelligence by arguing with you about that."

If you do not like that one, you can also just say nicely, "I disagree with you."  Disagreement is not invalidation.  It does not inherently make one person right and the other wrong.  It is just a difference of opinion and nothing more.  Many people with BPD have never experienced a respectful disagreement in their entire lives.

No matter what else the person with BPD throws at you after that, do not address it other than to state that you will not argue about it any further.  Repeat as necessary.


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