Relationships have never been my strong suit. In fact, I can’t think of a single friendship or romantic connection that came easily. I constantly fear abandonment, avoid conflict at any cost, and I go to extreme efforts to garner attention. These behaviors cause me to appear as a clingy doormat, which ultimately pushes people away.
Once I received my borderline personality disorder diagnosis, I learned that many people with BPD struggle with relationships. People say that we walk the line of “I hate you, don’t leave me” or “You’re leaving me, I’m going to bombard you,” and I feel those phrases in my veins. It’s no coincidence that the DSM-5 specifically lists “a pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships” as one of the nine diagnostic criteria for this personality disorder.
It’s listed because it’s true: people with BPD simply struggle with relationships.
Through dialectical behavior therapy, I learned many skills to help enhance my interpersonal connections. I learned how to create space for both my feelings and others’ because these feelings can exist simultaneously. I discovered ways to read situations and social encounters with heightened awareness so that I could connect with people.
But, most importantly, I learned how to effectively communicate my needs in a calm, respectful way.
One of Marsha Linehan’s many DBT acronyms is DEARMAN. This specific skill falls under interpersonal effectiveness and helps you get your needs met. By using this acronym, you describe the situation, express your feelings, and assert yourself. Furthermore, you reinforce your stance while remaining mindful, confident, and willing to negotiate if needed.
In other words, DEARMAN outlines a script for you that leaves little room for passive-aggressive communication. It also sets the stage for you to convey your true feelings. This can be a struggle when you fear abandonment. And although it may sound like tons of work, once you get the hang of things, you can easily plan out your interaction with someone while effectively using this skill.
Most recently, I used the DEARMAN skill to explain why I needed to stop participating in a specific therapy group. I knew that the environment was negatively impacting my mental health. However, I worried that expressing this would end in a messy, heated altercation. So, after I weighed the pros and cons of withdrawing from the group, I sat down and planned out a script for myself. I felt my anxiety drop as I wrote everything out, but I trembled with nervous anticipation.
Much to my surprise though, the group facilitator received my thought-out, skillful explanation well. They ultimately applauded me for using my voice and effectively conveying my needs. They said that everyone’s journey looks different, and they appreciated my willingness to openly share. I couldn’t believe the outcome of this conversation, and I knew that it would have looked completely different had I not planned my words using the DEARMAN skill.
When I left, I not only felt calm, but I beamed with pride as I realized just how effectively I communicated my needs.
Since starting my recovery journey and practicing DBT skills like DEARMAN, I have noticed a significant improvement in all of the relationships in my life. I find myself pausing more, exploding less, and actively participating in conversations. Although I’ve by no means mastered DBT or fully recovered from BPD, I feel more positive about the overall direction of my life. I may always battle BPD, but I know that with well-being practiced interpersonal skills, I can maintain relationships and feel an overall sense of stability in my life.