Listening is a vital skill when helping someone with BPD; it is more than simply hearing what they say – it also includes understanding what they have said in your own way. It is important to remember listening is an active process.
Good listening skills involve:
- Give the person your full attention
- Allow the person to finish what they are saying without interrupting
- Listen for the key points in what the person says
- Clarify things you are unsure of
- Feedback to the person to show you have understood
Validation is another important skill and consists of two parts. The first involves mindful listening and requires you to give the person your full and undivided attention and to show an interest in what the person has to say in the form of verbal and non-verbal cues (i.e. facial expression and gestures). The second part of validation involves reflecting and acknowledging what the person has told you. In your reflection, you should not simply repeat what the person has said in parrot fashion, but instead convey the essence of what the person has said.
As part of validation it is also important that you clarify and summarise. This is vital if there are areas which you did not understand so that you can ask the person to explain this again and for you to then summarise so the person can correct you on any areas you may have misunderstood.
You can also put problematic behaviour into a larger context to avoid such negative behaviours occurring again in the future. If the person were to describe an argument they had with their partner for which they feel responsible because they said something nasty, you may be able to validate it if their partner also said something nasty; you may do this by explaining that although they said something nasty, they did not storm out of the house, but instead stayed and calmed themselves down.
Alongside this you could also point out to the person that their reactions and emotions can be perfectly legitimate. If for example, the person had organised a family meal and no one came, you could normalise their upset by saying, “I understand you are upset that no one came to the meal, anyone would feel the same in that situation”.