Borderline Personality Disorder,  Emotions,  Resources,  Spotlight,  Validation

I-AM-MAD communication skill

I AM MAD Communication Skill

Last week I wrote an email to someone explaining the value of validation and the stance one “should” adopt when using validation. Emotional validation is valuable when someone is experiencing an “emotionally dysregulated moment” (which in the ATSTP group we call “EDM”). These moments are common when someone has BPD or ERD.

Anyway, I posted an anonymous version of my message to the group and one of my group members (thanks Tides!) edited it into what she called the “I-AM-MAD” communication tool. I will post the content of the tool below and upload the PDF…. Oh, quickly… The formatting came out a little wonky. And “IAAHF” means “it’s all about his/her feelings” which is a concept in WHINE.


1. Identify the emotions.

It’s best to do this with “feeling” words, like “look”, “see”, or “sound”, rather than “know” or “understand”.


  • “I see that you are frustrated.”
  • “You sound aggravated.”
  • “You look really upset.”

2. Ask a validating question.

This encourages them to share their feelings about whatever triggered them. Do not use “what’s wrong?” If you use “what’s wrong?” they will hear “what’s wrong with YOU?” Also, don’t assume you did anything wrong. Remember, IAAHF (It’s All About His/Her Feelings).


  • “What happened?” (most effective because it is open-ended, requires more than yes/no answer)
  • “Did something go wrong at work [school] today?”
  • “Want to talk about it?”

3. Make a validating statement about their emotion.

Validate the feelings expressed in step 2. This helps reinforce that it is natural and valid to feel what they are feeling in the situation. Again, remember IAAHF. Don’t defend against blaming or projecting. And don’t apologize at this point, even if you are guilty. (Apologies for things you are actually guilty of can come later… after they have returned to their emotional baseline.)


  • “Wow, it must have made you feel awful to have done poorly on that test.”
  • “Yes, it is frustrating when it seems that someone is taking advantage of you.”
  • “Yeah, that’s really disappointing.”

4. Make a normalizing statement about their emotion.

By relating the situation as common to all people or “normal” for them, this helps alleviate their stress about feeling judged or unaccepted.


  • “I think anyone would feel angry if they had to do that”
  • “I would feel the same way if that happened to me.”
  • “I can see why you feel that way.”

5. Analyze the consequences of their behavior.

By examining the consequences of both negative and positive behavior with the person, you help them to separate their emotional reaction from their behavior. The behavior may need to be changed, but the emotions are natural and should not be punished for.


  • “When you don’t ask questions about something that confuses you, I don’t realize that you are struggling, so I can’t help you. When you do ask questions though, I can either give you the information you need to solve the problem yourself or we can work together to figure out the best solution to the problem.”
  • “When you yell at me, I feel disrespected and become upset too. However, when you speak calmly to me, I know you have respect for me, so I am able to listen to you better.”
  • “When you refuse to talk to me, I don’t know what else to do except give you space.When something is bothering you, it’s best to be open and honest with me so I know what’s going on and don’t make the wrong assumptions about what you need.

6. Don’t solve the problem for them.

Solving one’s own problems helps to build self-confidence.Empower the person by getting them to come up with a solution themselves.When given the opportunity in a non-judgmental setting, most people will find that they can come up with solutions to their problems. You can guide them through this process by asking helpful questions to ascertain what they need or want.


  • “How would you like to handle this?”
  • “What would help you make a better choice next time?”
  • “Is there anything I can do to help?”

(Note: Sometimes you have to go back and forth to help them find the most effective solution. They may say, “I don’t know” or “I don’t care.” This can be tough. Go back to step one to deal with any additional emotions that become apparent.)

I AM MAD PDF Version


  • Julie

    “I think anyone would feel angry if they had to do that”

    “I would feel the same way if that happened to me.”

    “I can see why you feel that way.”

    These work for you? I have found that empathetic statments like this, particularly when the person is in a manic phase only bring on a rage and accusations that I am trying to shift the focus to myself. I think this is tricky.

  • Bon Dobbs

    I think those work pretty well. One of the problems with “I” statements is that when someone is emotionally dysregulated the IAAHF (it’s all about his/her feelings) rule applies. You don’t want to make the conversation about you. The first statement you use here is the most effective IMO, because it is empathetic and normalizing at the same time. If you make “I” statements, it can seem like you’re trying to talk about you, rather than about their feelings. Sometimes it’s more effective (however clunky) to say something like “I can only imagine how difficult that is for you” or “Wow, it must be infuriating to have that happen” which are less statements about how you feel and more about how they must feel.

    One of the things that stuck out for me from my list was one member said, when identifying emotions, that if she got it “wrong” with her husband, she would reply, “Well, that’s how I would feel if I was in that situation” which I thought was pretty clever and sympathetic, even when she gets it wrong.

    Thanks for your comment. I hope you’re doing well.


  • livenlaughnluv

    I think the key to this is once the comment has been made, you STOP. In other words, you don’t go on to explain why YOU feel the way you do… you simply make the statement and then listen for the emotion behind the next response. If the BP becomes attacking and makes accusations about shifting focus, I would likely reply with something along the lines of…

    “I’m not sure I understand what you mean by that. I’d like to though. Can you help me?”

    As partners, we can get so caught up in our BPs behaviors, that we loose track of our own reactive behaviors. I can see where, at times, I did shift the focus over to my own emotions. Because, at that moment, I was hurt by (even pissed off about) something my H did/said… and I wanted to feel better also.

    Thanks for posting the I-AM-MAD tool, Bon. I hope it helps your readers to have a helpful guide to refer to until validation begins to feel more natural to them.

  • Jenn

    Emotional validation’s “I” statements are used to tell a person experiencing intense emotional pain that “I see your pain.” Its about acknowledging the feeling exist inside them. Not that the feeling is right or wrong but simply that they possess that feeling at that moment.

    Thanks for your great insight!

  • improvements

    During his professional career, Mark Kaganov has published several books and technical papers in the areas of research of plastic materials, the economics of manufacturing, the technology of ion-selective electrodes, QMS, EMS and Internet business. He has also authored five international patents. The first book, “ISO 9001 – A Practical Guide to the Development and Implementation of a Quality Manual,” was translated into Russian. Shortly after Standards and Quality Press released the book in Moscow in 1999, it became an instant success.

  • All into validating anyone

    This is great for parents, kids, couples, workplace… I love all this validating ideas, Bon!!

    The more we practice less ego, the more we can make the Earth a peaceful place!

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