14. Embrace Challenge - RonaldMah

Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist,
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14. Embrace Challenge

Therapist Resources > Therapy Books > Ouch Borderline in Couples

Ouch! Where'd that come from?! The Borderline in Couples and Couple Therapy

Losing, not being "right," being "wrong," or failing can mean to an individual that he or she is fundamentally unworthy.  When the individual feels that he or she "gotta win," it creates two significant risky strategies.  First, the only guarantee that the individual would never lose or fail would be to not try or risk.  Avoidance of any risk becomes his or her life strategy.  Not taking chances means losing opportunities for gain and growth.  The individual may avoid risking being in any intimate relationship.  In the second problematic strategy, the individual becomes willing to do anything in order to win or avoid losing or failing.  The individual with borderline personality disorder will do anything to avoid feeling pain or stop feeling pain.  Winning, being right, or avoiding pain at any cost opens up a whole slew of potentially toxic behaviors.  The individual under ego stress or threat of betrayal, abandonment, or rejection will react with self-righteous, unfettered, and even sociopathic behaviors.  When winning, being right, or avoiding pain at any cost becomes paramount, other values such as fairness, integrity, honesty, and respect become irrelevant, and are seen as obstacles.  In the impulsive reactive moment of threat, such values are effectively out of sight and mind.   The partner and the therapist often experience the individual with borderline personality disorder's emotional fragility amidst the raging lashing out.  As a result, they are coerced or intimidated into believing the individual with borderline personality disorder's assertion of being too fragile to suffer.  Thus, the partner and the therapist may make great efforts to not let him or her suffer. Unfortunately, bending over backwards to prevent and protect him or her suffering distress implies to the individual with borderline personality disorder that he or she is too fragile and not powerful enough to handle disappointment, frustration, or failure.  Or, the partner or therapist accepts the individual's assertion that his or her distress justifies toxic behavior.

Arguably, one needs to embrace the challenge rather than give in to fear of failure, disintegration, and suffering.  It is critical to give the individual with borderline personality disorder the opportunity to suffer failure within a healthy relational and therapeutic framework.  No one is better able to help him or her with real or imagined experiences of betrayal, abandonment, and rejection than the therapist and the deeply invested partner.  These are the persons who are most involved and potentially best understand his or her vulnerabilities, capacities, and challenges.  Intimidated or off put by the individual with borderline personality disorder's potential tantrums, the partner may have avoided honest but potentially triggering exchanges.  The therapist should sensitively and purposely challenge the individual's issues, including risking and perhaps, purposely triggering him or her.  While engaging the individual with borderline vulnerability, the therapist offers support by calmly validating how badly the individual felt.  The therapist should validate his or her core worth while challenging whether or not he or she engaged in appropriate behavior.  The therapist facilitates the individual's interactions with the partner in session and at home.  The therapist sets clear boundaries and expectations for interaction with the partner in session and monitors him or her carefully.  The therapist encourages the partner to embrace the challenge and set clear boundaries and expectations for interaction at home.  There needs to immediate guidance, including setting boundaries the individual with borderline personality disorder begins to tantrum.  The partner is charged to do the same at home.  The therapist and partner constantly reminded the individual to use his or her intellect to consider logical and productive choices versus reactive illogical and damaging choices.  With both the therapist and the partner setting boundaries and expectations in a supportive fashion, the individual is also required to embrace the challenge.  He or she has to face embedded borderline emotions and vulnerabilities.  Embracing stress, frustration, failure, suffering, while sensitively supported, the individual develops skills and strength to survive the devastating anguish of borderline emotions in order to try to flourish individually and in the couple.

The following is the summary of SFFS SS SS SF for creating a powerful and successful child… and guide therapy and interaction with the individual with borderline personality disorder!

Principles for becoming strong, or to build a strong successful child/person.

Stress: One must experience stress, since stress is what builds strength.  Avoiding stress, avoids opportunities to grow.

Frustrate: One must experience frustration to learn how to survive it and deal with it successfully, since it accompanies life experiences, stresses, and challenges.  Avoiding frustration results in avoiding the stress that builds.

Fail: One must experience and become comfortable with failure, since failure is a natural consequence of trying anything or learning anything.  Fear of failure results in one of two consequences: one will become sociopathic and willing to win at all costs, no matter how harmful it is to oneself, others or the community; or to guarantee not failing, one will not try.

Suffer: While experiencing stress, frustration, and failure, one must also suffer in order to experience that one can suffer without being destroyed or overwhelmed; to discover ones resiliency.  If one feels that one cannot tolerate any suffering, then one will do extreme and compulsive behaviors in order to avoid suffering.
Sensitivity: A person can endure stress, frustration, failure, and suffering, if his/her caring authoritative and intimate individuals have the sensitivity to understand his/her abilities, limitations, and capacities.

Support: With that sensitivity, then such caring authoritative and intimate individuals can offer the appropriate support that one needs to benefit from stress, frustration, failure, and suffering.

Strength: From the experiences with sensitive support, one will develop strength,

Skills: From the experiences with sensitive support, one will develop skills.
Survive: From the experiences, strength, and skills, one will develop a confidence that despite the difficulties and challenges of the world, one will survive.
Flourish: Once one is confident that he/she can survive, then he/she can risk and have opportunities to flourish in the world.

**All individuals must go through Stress, Frustration, Failure, & Suffering to grow powerful.  To build powerful successful individuals, caring professionals and family must stress, frustrate, let individuals fail, and make sure they suffer!  WITH sensitivity, they can support individuals through this to develop strength & skills that will ensure survival and offer the possibility of flourishing.

3056 Castro Valley Blvd., #82
Castro Valley, CA 94546
Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, MFT32136
office: (510) 582-5788
fax: (510) 889-6553
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