Borderline Personality Disorder – Validation versus Invalidation of Emotional Experience.
What is validation for people with Borderline Personality Disorder? Let’s start by saying what it isn’t. Validation does not mean agreeing with person with BPD, it’s not giving compliments, it is not letting go of your boundaries, it is not letting go of your limits, it’s not about teaching and it’s not about convincing them of a different position of an argument. Validation is essentially a de-escalating skill.
Invalidation is when people’s emotional experience is rejected, ignored, dismissed, judged or punished. This makes it difficult for sensitive people to regulate their emotions. No-one enjoys those experiences. Invalidations is blaming, discounting experience, problem solving without understanding, minimising harm done and can be conveyed with body language, facial expressions and tone of voice. Most well-intentioned people want to fix or cure what they feel is wrong with the person with BPD. This can be because they want to encourage, cheer lead, have a fear of emotions, have a different world view or simply do not understand BPD.
Validation is important because it supports people’s emotional response; it can help people understand that their feelings and emotions make sense and are real. It can improve relationships with better communication. When people with BPD feel understood and know you are trying to understand their experience, they can feel validated. Validate emotions, not thoughts or statements. Everyone has their own psychological truth and we need to be open to correction.
Validation is also important because people with BPD experience emotions far more deeply and intensely. They are quicker to rise up, stay elevated for longer and are much slower to return to “baseline.” There is a skills deficit for identifying and validating their own emotions.
Be mindful and pay attention, look and act interested, make eye contact, turn your mobile phone off and give the person your undivided attention. Actively listen, reflect back, reframe what you understand they are saying until you get it accurate but do not treat the person with BPD as fragile or incompetent. When we get this wrong there can be an emotional outburst or a complete shut-down. But when we get it right, it decreases the emotional intensity.
Relationships work both ways and when we change our behaviour, it can change the other person. People can have profound effects on each other. There are barriers to validations including fear, judgements, exhaustion, feeling overwhelmed, self-blame and holding onto the past.
Having BPD is not much fun when you feel as though the world is an invalidating place. It’s horrible to experience so much emotional hurt and pain that other people cannot see. Feelings are very real, and out of proportion to the incident, yet by validating feelings, there can be a remarkably different response and that’s what can help deepen the relationship.