Monday, October 14, 2013

Video: The Importance of Empathy Skills when Supporting a Person with BPD

Empathy is the experience of understanding another person's condition from their perspective. You effectively place yourself in their shoes and feel what they are feeling.

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When someone asks what is the most important tool for supporting a loved one with borderline personality disorder, I say "empathy". I typically follow with "and many of us over estimate our own empathy skills".

What is empathy?

It is often confused with sympathy. Empathy it is distinctly different. Empathy is the experience of understanding another person's condition from their perspective. You effectively place yourself in their shoes and feel what they are feeling. Seeing things from another person's perspective isn't simply understanding their point of view -- it extends to understanding, without disclaimers, why they feel their point of view is just and appropriate and honest.

So, when your child returns from a therapy appointment and proclaims "I really like this one", it's most likely related to the therapist's ability to empathize and communicate it. We will not be able to motivate, coach, lead or redirect anyone without having this knowledge, too.

When Perry Hoffman (Harvard) conducted a study to determine the predictors of BPD patient recovery, the researchers found the #1 predictor to be the presence of a caring and empathetic person in the patient's life. They were surprised with this #1 rating.

It is also interesting that the architects of the DSM 5 proposed that a personality disorder be diagnosed when a person has diminished skills in two of the following -- either "empathy or intimacy" and either "identity or self direction". This raises two practical issues for us. First, our loved one may very well have impaired empathy skills and so we don't want to mirror that back as a way to "teach them a lesson".  Secondly, if we are supporting a BPD child, it is important to remember that BPD traits tend to run in families and we may have had a parent that wasn't very empathetic and in turn, we didn't develop effective empathy skills ourselves. As such, we may have to become very deliberate in developing empathy skills now and seek the advice of others to help us to better "step in the shoes" of our child.

The five levels of empathy proposed by the DSM 5 architects are listed here. Want to know where you stand? Ask someone very close to you - ask your children - don't make a self-assessment. 

Helping each other to grow to be more empathetic is one very important way we help each other at

Author: Skip
Video Short: Scott Peck

Scott Peck earned his Masters Degree in Education and Doctorate in Divinity and has worked professionally as an educator, national advertising manager, reporter, photographer, copywriter, & real estate broker. provides support, education, tools, and perspective to individuals with a loved one affected by Borderline Personality Disorder. BPFamily is a non-profit, co-op of over 75,000 volunteer members and alumni formed in 1998. We welcome you to join our free 24 hour on-line support community with its over 2 million postings and grow with us as we learn to live better lives in the shadow of this disorder. For more information or to register, please cleck here.


It is really difficult empathizing with someone who has a personality disorder. My wife suffers from depression, and I have a really hard time understand what she's going through. This just makes her get more angry. I'm glad they have neuroscience experts out there studying different ways to overcome these disorders.

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