Loving Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder
If someone you love has been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), you know that this disorder affects everyone around the patient as well. The relationship with your loved one may feel plagued by conflict and unstable at times. You may feel like you need to walk on eggshells to avoid a major outburst.
It can feel like there is nothing you can do to help, but the reality is that a support system is vital to living a healthy life with BPD. With some education, communication, boundaries, and self-care, you can build a great bond with your loved one and support them in their treatment.
Learn About the Disorder
One of the most important steps you can take to support your loved one with BPD is to learn more about the disorder and what it feels like to live with it. The first step in this process is to realize that a real mental health disorder causes many of the negative behaviors in your loved one. Furthermore, you should learn to recognize the symptoms of BPD, including:
- Fear of abandonment or being alone
- Intense and unstable relationships
- Fiery anger that shows up at inappropriate times
- Severe mood swings
- Threats of suicide or self-harm, especially when they perceive rejection
- Quick, intense shifts in a person’s self-esteem
If a person you love threatens suicide, seek help for them whether you believe the threat is real or not. You can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
Recognizing these as symptoms can help you take outbursts and mood swings less personally. This can also help you understand why your loved one acts in a specific way. Finally, your understanding can help the person feel less alone, thus easing their symptoms.
Set and Reinforce Your Boundaries
Healthy boundaries between you and the person with BPD can help both of you in many ways. You gain control over your own life and what you will tolerate from the other person. Meanwhile, the person with BPD learns to better handle boundaries in various settings, including school, work, and the law. In the end, you can enjoy a more stable and loving relationship.
Some boundaries you can set include:
- You will discontinue a conversation if the other person yells/curses at you
- You will wait 15 minutes to respond to texts
- You will not answer the phone during work or sleep hours
- You will not give in to ultimatums or emotional manipulation
Do not expect boundaries to fix your relationship overnight. In fact, the person with BPD may react negatively at first because they may sense rejection or isolation. However, if you stay the course, you may notice a significant improvement.
Practice Healthy Communication
Just as with any relationship, it’s important for you to establish healthy communication patterns between you and your loved one with BPD. However, you may need to be more intentional with this person than anyone else in your life. Below are some communication tips for this situation:
- Give your full attention: Practice actively listening by turning off the television and putting down your phone.
- Listen to the emotions, not the words: People with BPD may exaggerate in their wording. Try to read between the lines and discover what emotion they feel.
- Make them feel understood: Once you understand the emotion they feel, say so. You can try phrases like, “I see that this situation makes you really upset. I understand why.”
- Lean on distractions: Sometimes, the feelings your loved one has are overwhelming and just feeling heard won’t do enough. Try doing another activity with them that keeps their attention.
- Stay calm: Even if your loved one acts out, yells, and frustrates you, try to stay as calm as you can. Yelling back will only feed into the person’s paranoia about rejection and make the symptoms worse.
Take Care of Yourself
The strong emotions and inconsistency in a relationship with someone with BPD can take a toll on anyone. You may feel emotionally manipulated, worried about the next unpredictable outburst, and tired from dealing with the drama. That’s why it’s absolutely vital for you to take time to take care of your emotional needs as well.
In addition to encouraging your loved one to seek counseling, you may consider therapy for yourself. The compassionate therapists at LifeStance Health can make sure you process your valid feelings about your loved one’s BPD and other issues in your life.