It’s not often you can say a book changed your life but this book was the catalyst that changed our family’s relationships for the better.
The book is written to support the families of loved ones with borderline personality disorder (BPD). The first thing I’d say is that Porr really understands and empathises with the experience of living day to day with someone with BPD, and the stress, uncertainty and sadness that it brings.
My second thought is that the book takes a very compassionate approach. It’s for families who want to know more, who want to love, understand, respond to, and help their loved one. The book focuses on two things: increasing your understanding of the disorder and giving you skills to handle the situations that arise.
Understanding BPD is a crucial first step to increasing the compassion you feel for what your loved one is going through. Porr explains the science behind the disorder – how brain scans show heightened emotional reactivity in the amygdala, slower recovery from these reactions, and impaired working of the executive functions of the brain that perceive, reason, and plan actions. She paints a picture of the impact of these changes and what it must be like to live with the disorder.
The rest of the book gives you tools and techniques for responding to and helping your loved one. These are grounded in two effective therapies for BPD – dialectical behaviour therapy and mentalisation therapy.
Dialectical behaviour therapy is based around a set of skills which can help tolerate distress, regulate emotions, and improve communication and relationships. While aimed at those with BPD, these skills can equally help families communicate and successfully navigate their own relationships with their BPD loved one. Learning these skills, particularly validation, together with a new appreciation and understanding of what was in front of me, was the turning point in restoring some hope to our family relationships.
Porr is not a believer in the tough love approach for BPD. Developing and using the skills she teaches tends to reduce the levels of confrontation and conflict in and of themselves, but she does also address ways a family member can set limits if they feel abused.
Mentalisation is the skill of intuiting what other people are thinking, and Porr devotes the last chapter to why misunderstandings occur so often, and what you can do about it.
This is a book I have gone back to again and again, for information, for skills, and to feel my experience is validated.
Reviewer chose not to be named to protect her privacy.