Family Connections


"Family Connections" Workshops

FREE* Compass Parenting Class for families with teens or young adults that have emotional dysregulation problems.

Email or call 888-265-9114 to register for our next Family Connections class.

About Family Connections

Family Connections® is a 12-week course that meets weekly to provide education, skills training, and support for people who are in a relationship with a teen who struggles with regulating their emotions.

This class will be held at Compass Behavioral Health and is led by trained group leaders who are usually a clinical therapist and a family member of a teen or young adult with emotion dysregulation problems.

Dr. Alan Fruzzetti and Dr. Perry Hoffman developed this course based on their research as well as their significant professional expertise in counseling people with emotion dysregulation which is sometimes known as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). The Family Connections class provides: (i) current information and research on BPD and on family functioning; (ii) individual coping skills based on Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT); (iii) family skills; and (iv) group support that builds an ongoing network for family members.

Survey data from previous FC courses show that after completing the course, family members experience decreased feelings of depression, burden, and grief, and more feelings of empowerment.

The Family Connections program includes: 

  • Support for parents, spouses, children, and siblings of someone with BPD or emotional dysregulation
  • The latest knowledge and skills to enable the well-being of participants
  • Education on BPD
  • Research on BPD
  • Family Perspectives and Experiences
  • Relationship Mindfulness Skills
  • Emotion Regulation Skills
  • Effective Communication Skills
  • Validation Skills
  • Problem Management Skills

Email or call 888-265-9114 to register for our next Family Connections class

*No out of pocket costs for families.

Some guidelines for families:

1. Remember that change is difficult to achieve and fraught with fears. Be cautious about suggesting that “great” progress has been made or giving “You can do it” reassurances. Progress evokes fears of abandonment.

The families of people with Borderline Personality Disorder or emotional dysregulation difficulties can tell countless stories of instances in which their son or daughter went into crisis just as that person was beginning to function better or to take on more responsibility. The coupling of improvement with a relapse is confusing and frustrating but has a logic to it. When people make progress – by working, leaving day treatment, helping in the home, diminishing self-destructive behaviors, or living alone- they are becoming more independent. They run the risk that those around them who have been supportive, concerned, and protective will pull away, concluding that their work is done. The supplies of emotional and financial assistance may soon dry up, leaving the person to fend for herself in the world. Thus, they fear abandonment. Their response to the fear is a relapse. They may not make a conscious decision to relapse, but fear and anxiety can drive them to use old coping methods. Missed days at work, self-mutilation, a suicide attempt, or a bout of overeating, purging or drinking may be a sign that lets everyone around know that the individual remains in distress and needs their help. Such relapses may compel those around her to take responsibility for her through protective measures such as hospitalization. Once hospitalized, she has returned to her most regressed state in which she has no responsibilities while others take care of her.

When signs of progress appear, family members can reduce the risk of relapse by not showing too much excitement about the progress and by cautioning the individual to move slowly. This is why experienced members of a hospital staff tell borderline patients during discharge not that they feel confident about their prospects, but that they know the patient will confront many hard problems ahead. While it is important to acknowledge progress with a pat on the back, it is meanwhile necessary to convey understanding that progress is very difficult to achieve. It does not mean that the person has overcome her emotional struggles. You can do this by avoiding statements such as, “You’ve made great progress,” or, “I’m so impressed with the change in you.” Such messages imply that you think they are well or over their prior problems.

Even statements of reassurance such as, “That wasn’t so hard,” or, “I knew you could do it,” suggest that you minimize their struggle. A message such as, “Your progress shows real effort. You’ve worked hard. I’m pleased that you were able to do it, but I’m worried that this is all too stressful for you,” can be more empathic and less risky.

2. Lower your expectations. Set realistic goals that are attainable. Solve big problems in small steps. Work on one thing at a time. “Big”, long-term goals lead to discouragement and failure.

Although the person with BPD may have many obvious strengths such as intelligence, ambition, good looks, and artistic talent, she nonetheless is handicapped by severe emotional vulnerabilities as she sets about making use of those talents. Usually the person with BPD and her family members have aspirations based upon these strengths. The patient or her family may push for return to college, graduate school, or a training program that will prepare her for financial independence. Family members may wish to have the patient move into her own apartment and care for herself more independently. Fueled by such high ambitions, a person with BPD will take a large step forward at a time.

She may insist upon returning to college full time despite undergoing recent hospitalizations, for example. Of course, such grand plans do not consider the individual’s handicaps of affect dyscontrol, black and white thinking, and intolerance of aloneness. The first handicap may mean that, in the example given, the B received on the first exam could lead to an inappropriate display of anger if it was thought to be unfair, to a self-destructive act if it was felt to be a total failure, or severe anxiety if it was believed that success in school would lead to decreased parental concern. The overriding issue about success in the vocational arena is the threat of independence —much desired but fraught with fear of abandonment. The result of too large a step forward all at once is often a crashing swing in the opposite direction, like the swing of a pendulum. The person often relapses to a regressed state and may even require hospitalization.

A major task for families is to slow down the pace at which they or the patient seeks to achieve goals. By slowing down, they prevent the sharp swings of the pendulum as described and prevent experiences of failure that are blows to the individual’s self-confidence. By lowering expectations and setting small goals to be achieved step by step, patients and families have greater chances of success without relapse. Goals must be realistic. For example, the person who left college mid-semester after becoming depressed and suicidal under the pressure most likely could not return to college full time a few months later and expect success. A more realistic goal is for that person to try one course at a time while she is stabilizing. Goals must be achieved in small steps. The person with BPD who has always lived with her parents might not be able to move straight from her parents’ home. The plan can be broken down into smaller steps in which she first moves to a halfway house, and then into a supervised apartment. Only after she has achieved some stability in those settings should she take the major step of living alone.

Goals should not only be broken down into steps but they should be taken on one step at a time. For example, if the patient and the family have goals for both the completion of school and independent living, it may be wisest to work on only one of the two goals at a time.


3. Keep things cool and calm. Appreciation is normal. Tone it down. Disagreement is normal. Tone it down, too.

This guideline is a reminder of the central message of our educational program: The person with BPD and severe emotional dysregulation is handicapped in his ability to tolerate stress in relationships (i.e., rejection, criticism, disagreements) and can, therefore, benefit from a cool, calm home environment. It is vital to keep in mind the extent to which people with BPD struggle emotionally each day. While their internal experience can be difficult to convey, we explain it by summarizing into three handicaps: affect dyscontrol, intolerance of aloneness, and black and white thinking. To see more content like this visit the original Family Connections website here.