1.6 percent of Americans over the age of 18 suffer from borderline personality disorder (BPD) according to the National Institute of Mental Health. If you’re close to someone with BPD, does peace seem impossible?
Your loved one with BPD may struggle with a real—or imagined—fear of being abandoned. Then out of nowhere, their mood changes and they suddenly become angry. To make matters worse, they direct their anger toward you.
To help you restore peace into your relationship again, learn as much as you can about borderline personality disorder. While things won’t change overnight, there are three things you can do that will help you—and ultimately—your relationship with them.
Learn the Signs and Symptoms
While many people will experience these symptoms from time to time, people with BPD will experience these symptoms daily, or almost every day, for years. Your friend or family member must go to a doctor to be diagnosed. Only a licensed mental health professional—such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or licensed clinical social worker can correctly diagnose them with BPD or another mental illness.
When they do see a psychiatrist or another mental health professional, they can let them know about any of these signs or symptoms that they may struggle with including:
- Fear of abandonment
- Impulsive, self-destructive behavior
- Extreme emotional swings
- Unstable relationships
- Recurrent suicidal or self-harming behavior
- Irresponsible behavior (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating)
- Persistent feelings of emptiness
- Inappropriate, extreme, or hard to control anger
- Feelings of self-hatred or self-loathing
Learn How to Communicate
When it comes to communicating with someone with BPD, do you know what to do—and what not to do? Good communication, after all, is the key to any healthy relationship. Here are some tips on how to communicate with your loved one with BPD.
Validate their feelings. People with BPD will react often and experience intense emotions. Are you tempted to try to talk them out of these emotions? Don’t! Repeating back what they say, known as mirroring, is a good way to validate their feelings. For example, instead of saying: “You shouldn’t be afraid I’m going to leave you,” you could say: “What I hear you saying is that you’re afraid I’ll abandon you. It must be terrible to feel that way.” Listening with kindness, compassion, and care will let them know you support them.
Encourage responsibility. You want your loved one to find help and healing. So, you might think rescuing them from their troubles will show them how much you love them. When they aren’t responsible with their finances and get into credit card debt, you are tempted to give them money to pay for their debt. But instead of rescuing them, encourage them to take responsibility for their poor choices. If they have credit card or other types of debt, they’ll need to pay for it on their own.
Take threats of suicide seriously. It is not uncommon for someone with BPD to threaten or attempt suicide to injure themselves in order to deal with their difficult feelings. The National Institute for Mental Health estimates that approximately 10 percent of people with BPD will take their own lives.
If your loved one threatens suicide, here are some steps to take. First, tell them not to take their own life. Second, ask why they’re feeling that way and listen. And finally, do not hesitate to call 911, or take them to an emergency room.
Learn to Care for Yourself
Loving someone with BPD can leave you feeling emotionally and physically exhausted. While you feel like their caregiver, you may feel pain and despair of your own. Being supportive can be hard work. It may feel, at times, like you’re getting nowhere. Please don’t blame yourself. When you have a loved one with BPD, keep these three things in mind:
- You did not cause it.
- You can’t cure it.
- You can’t control it.
While you can’t do anything about your loved one having BPD, you can learn to take care of yourself. Take the first step by asking for help from a therapist, support group, or doctor. Next, make sure you take time to deal with stress in a healthy way such as exercising, journaling, praying, reading the Bible, resting, and talking to a friend.
Finally, look to the Lord to find your strength. You may feel shame or hopelessness. But in the midst of your difficult relationship and emotions, remember God is there for you. And He promises to comfort you, in spite of the enormous challenges you may be facing.
As 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 assures us:
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.
Would you like to know more about how to help someone who struggles with BPD? Read Understanding and Loving a Person with Borderline Personality Disorder, by Steve Arterburn and Robert Wise.