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Aug 22, 2022

306: Ask David: Featuring Matt May, MD

1. Kevin asks: Hi David, Is it possible to have a healthy relationship with someone who can be classed as “Borderline Personality Disorder”?

2. Brittany asks: How do you deal with the injustice of people who rip you off without giving you credit?

3. Paul asks: Is there a way to know if I have done the Hidden Emotion Technique correctly?

Note: The answers below were generated prior to the podcast, and the information provided on the live podcast may be richer and different in a number of ways.

1. Kevin asks: Hi David, Is it possible to have a healthy relationship with someone who can be classed as “Borderline Personality Disorder”?

Hi David,

Is it possible to have a healthy relationship with someone who can be classed as “Borderline”? What are keys to being in a relationship with someone that exhibits some of these characteristics? Is it a lost cause? Is borderline personality disorder bullshit and simply a result of assumptions such as “I need love to be worthwhile” as indicated in your books?



David’s reply

Great question, here are a couple brief responses off the top of my head:

"Healthy" exists on a continuum. In my experience, the therapeutic relationship with a patient diagnosed with BPD exists on a continuum, it is not all-or=nothing, and you can have excellent interactions, but this often requires great diligence and skill in the use of the five Secrets of Effective Communication.

I have not observed any unique relationship between the Love Addiction and BPD. That's because the "need" for love is pervasive in our culture, and is, in fact, one of the most common Self-Defeating Beliefs. I do believe that Other-Blame (along with Self-Blame) is a common feature of BPD, along with the unwillingness to be accountable and to have tow work hard and consistently for recovery. I have had a number of patients with BPD threaten suicide if I asked them to do psychotherapy homework, for example.

At my clinical in Philadelphia, we diagnosed the ten personality disorders prospectively, at the intake evaluation, and depressed patient with and without BPD improved at almost the same rate during the first 12 weeks when treated by the forerunner of TEAM-CBT, when controlling for severity of initial depression. I published this surprising finding in the top journal for clinical psychology research, the JCCP, but it got little attention for some reason, and some of the reviewers of the article were critical of this finding which they found difficult to believe or accept.

DBT has been the "go-to" method for BPD, and BPD therapists may think that CBT / TEAM-CBT would or could not be helpful. Still, I am grateful for DBT welcoming such patients and helping them, when so many therapists avoid these patients! At my clinic in Philadelphia, something in the range of 28% of our patients were diagnosed with BPD at intake.


Matt’s Reply: I’m really just guessing, but perhaps Kevin is feeling quite sad, worried and hopeless, about his relationship. Perhaps he’s been treated badly and is also angry and scared that this will continue to happen in his current relationship. If so, he might be having thoughts like, ‘This relationship will always be terrible’ or ‘They will continue to hurt me and disrespect me and treat me badly’ of maybe, ‘This is their fault, they have Borderline Personality!’.

This is only a guess, but if it were the case, I would imagine Kevin could use a great deal of empathy and listening, right about now. It is possible he has been treated terribly or even abused. His partner may indeed meet the criteria for BPD, in which case they would be tremendously sensitive and frequently reactive and prone to unhealthy expressions of anger. Perhaps Kevin has displayed tremendous patience and tried very hard in the relationship, which would be admirable, but only amplify his disappointment when the same hurtful patterns continue. Kevin may even feel worthless, if he believes that the way he is being treated by others is an indicator of his worth as a person.

I feel for you, Kevin, and hope you’re getting the Empathy you need. I think there is a lot we could offer someone in this situation, in addition to Empathy, as well.

We certainly have the technology, in TEAM, to alleviate the worthless feelings, the anxiety and worry, the feelings of anger and hopelessness, etc. and to replace these with a sense of confidence, joy and optimism. We could also offer skills that that one could use to substantially improve the quality of their relationship. Meanwhile, there are many reasons why someone would prefer to maintain very high levels of hopelessness, anger and worry and low self-esteem in this context.

For example, as a protection against getting hurt again. Or they might not want to like and admire themselves if their partner is dissatisfied with them. We’ve also discussed, on the podcast, how tempting and seductive Blame can be. When we tell ourselves, ‘It’s their fault, they have Borderline Personality Disorder’, this type of thought can give us pleasant feelings of superiority. Kevin may not have any of these thoughts or feelings. My point is that, before trying to ‘help’ someone in Kevin’s shoes, I’d certainly want to explore all the good reasons he would want to continue to feel extremely upset and all the good things this says about his sensibilities and values.

In addition to Empathy and an exploration of Resistance, one tool that is sometimes helpful in this situation is the Decision Making Form. This is a simple but powerful tool, available online, thanks to David’s generosity, which one can use to compare and consider, with great care, the three options they have in a relationship: continue the status quo, end the relationship or take personal responsibility for improving the relationship. There would be pro’s and con’s to each of these options. Meanwhile, you will notice that there’s one option that is NOT on that list, which is to change the other person. Trying to change the other person, blaming them, is the cause of relationship problems and another version of the ‘status quo’.

For the sake of argument, let’s imagine Kevin, or someone like him, is convincingly talking back to the resistance. Maybe he also does the ‘Relationship Journal’ and he experiences the death of the blaming self, witnesses how his behavior is causing the problem, etc., this would be a tremendous achievement, but, I would still have some questions:

Would they want to feel better, now, or would they want to wait until after they have a better relationship? Would they want to embrace and accept and love their partner, now, flaws-and-all … or would they prefer to keep their guard up, until things improve? Are they still needing the other person to change, in some subtle way?

The reason I’d have to ask these questions is because of my own limitation: I can only help someone feel better in this moment, the way things are, right now. Similarly, I can only help someone improve their relationship, in this moment, while their partner is still treating them badly. When people are open to these terms, their lives and relationships can transform in beautiful ways. They can come to appreciate and love themselves and others, just as they are. David, you’ve said that’s the paradoxical first step towards improvement, I think.

2. Brittany asks: How do you deal with the injustice of people who rip you off without giving you credit?

Hi Dr. Burns!

I hear you say often how it upsets you that people use your work and don’t give you acknowledgment or credit for it. I wondered how you deal with your thoughts like the unfairness or injustice of it.

Or maybe you don’t want to deal with those thoughts because the anger helps you in some way? Like it motivates you to create more content & host more trainings etc. so people know the ideas come from you. I was just curious.

I deal with similar issues at work where I work really hard for an outcome and then once it happens other employees will take credit for it or just plain ignore the fact that I played any role.

I think hearing how you deal with not getting acknowledged would help me too.

Thank you,


David’s reply

Thanks, Brittany, and good to hear from you again! Maybe we can make this an Ask David. I've been ripped off so much that I try to ignore it, since it would consume a great deal of energy. We may take legal steps once we raise money for our Feeling Good App. For the most part, I always have so much to do, and try to keep moving the ball forward.

But yes, I DO get ticked off at people. Plagiarism was considered a severe violation when I grew up, and I still view it that way. Of course, all around the world we can see a tremendous amount of horror and evil being perpetuated by humans. I once asked Dr. Albert Elis a similar question, since Wayne Dwyer ripped him off. His answer was: "I just tell myself that Wayne Dwyer was an asshole, so he was just doing what he SHOULD do, since that's what assholes do!

David D. Burns, MD

Matt’s Reply: This question is for David, not me. However, I would like to express my deepest and most sincere gratitude to David. David has dedicated his life in the service of improving the lives of others. He has published over a hundred scientific articles and revolutionized the practice of psychotherapy in the form of the TEAM model, as well as publishing at least 12 books, including Feeling Good, the most-prescribed book for depression. He has traveled the globe to offer training seminars to therapists, as well as offering free training to countless students, trainees, residents, PsyD’s and psychologists in his groups, including his ongoing Tuesday training group.

It is disturbing and upsetting that someone like David, who has offered so much, would be a target for plagiarism and theft and I admire him for continuing his work, despite all of that.

3. Paul asks: Is there a way to know if I have done the Hidden Emotion Technique correctly?

Hi Dr. Burns,

It blows my mind how simple yet logical TEAM CBT is. And I am really excited about potential of the app, and I sincerely hope that this will be a revolution in field of psychology and psychotherapy. I really enjoy reading Feeling Great, but some techniques I find complicated.

I would like to ask, is there a way to know if I did Hidden Emotion Technique correctly ?

Also, I would like to ask if fear of mental illness does count as hypochondriasis as well.

At the end I would like to say, that I really appreciate your work Dr. Burns, and I hope that your work will spread around the world and get recognition it deserves, so even more people can be healed.


David’s reply

Thanks for the kind words, Paul. I will try to include this in an upcoming Ask David segment!

Matt’s reply

You asked if you did the Hidden Emotion technique correctly. They say that the proof is in the pudding. Do you feel better? Are you experiencing relief? Keep in mind that the Hidden Emotion technique is one of many and may not be the correct method for some individuals. Also, for it to ‘work’ will require not only revealing the hidden emotion, but discovering how to address that emotion. Will you use cognitive techniques to untwist the thinking that is causing this emotion? Will you use the 5-Secrets to respectfully communicate that emotion in a productive way? Will you make a decision about your future that will correct the problem? There are lots of options, but the outcome, if the Hidden Emotion is successful, will be relief.

You also asked if worrying about having a mental illness counts as hypochondriasis. The nice thing about this model is that I get to admire you for having all kinds of hypochondriacal worries about your mental health and point out how it’s a ‘solution’ rather than a ‘problem’ and how such worrying speaks highly of you, how responsible you are, how much you care and how much you value your mental health. I’d need you to convince me that it’s a problem!