Most people have heard of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). A mental health condition that affects one in four people. You may be supporting someone with Borderline Personality Disorder?
BPD has been characterised as a long-term pattern of behaviour. Usually a response to complex and/or ongoing trauma.
Unique from other personality disorders, it is described as emotion regulation difficulties, interpersonal difficulties and impulsive, sometimes destructive behaviours.
People with BPD also experience intense emotions and difficulties trusting other people. This can make interpersonal relationships difficult. These are the most common symptoms that I see in clients who experience BPD.
What is Borderline Personality Disorder?
In layperson’s terms, BPD has been described the experience of intense emotions as that having third degree burns all over the body. People report lacking emotional skin and feeling agony as the slightest intensity in emotion and reaction from others. The ‘symptoms’ those with BPD present with can be described as over-developed defence mechanisms. These are generally in response to childhood/adolescent trauma. Essentially, those who experience BPD are responding to the world they live in the only ways they know how. From a defensive place to protect themselves.
What are the traits of Borderline Personality Disorder?
If you have a friend of family member who experience BPD, you may be very familiar with the stress associated with this condition. There can be difficulties with supporting and being there for this important person in your life. While it can be challenging to support this person, it is not impossible and can be a source of hope for this person.
It is important to remember that BPD does not present the same in everyone who experience it. BPD is a set of traits that can present differently in people. However, one of the hallmarks that family and friends struggles providing support for is relationships, something that those with BPD struggle with, both with others and with themselves.
So, if you are wanting to support a loved one with BPD, remember that while the relationship will not be easy and you may be affected by their symptoms.
BPD itself is not an easy mental illness to experience. However, there is always hope, and your commitment to this person can help them get better too. Here are some suggestions on how you can best support a loved one with BPD:
Learn all you can about Borderline Personality Disorder.
Read research papers and information sites to understand the basics of the conditions and to also understand the seriousness of the condition. Read blogs online written by people who have lived experience of BPD. It is one of the easiest ways to understand the condition and learn more about it. Themighty.com is a great resource for those who experience BPD and those who want to support someone with BPD. And of course, speak to your loved one about their experience, and what it has been like for them. However, before having these conversations, it is important to establish good boundaries; you are their friend, not their therapist.
Learning about BPD and understanding the condition better will not solve all interpersonal conflicts, but it will help you to understand why your loved one behaves and responds the way they do, and that their behaviours are a response to deep emotional pain, and not to hurt you.
Encourage and Understand Treatment
While it may feel like BPD is an illness that does not have a cure, there is a lot of research to show that those with BPD can be treated with specific types of treatments. Treatments that are both individual and group have been shown to reduce many symptoms, including conflict and self-harm. Knowing that there is help available can create hope for those experiencing BPD. Furthermore, it helps for you to be a support person and not a therapist. It is important to remember that your job is not to ‘therapise’ your loved one, but is to provide hope and support.
Many clients I see who have been diagnosed with BPD have had tumultuous upbringings, which has affected attachment to caregivers. These clients have consistently reported feeling unable to trust people around them, due to the experience of the more severe symptoms.
As a support person, its important to remember that the person you are supporting has had a life time of difficulty trusting people due to feeling abandoned or rejected. As a result, their trust in you may take time, and showing up consistently and honestly will help to reduce that fear of abandonment.
It’s a good idea to set boundaries ahead of time, and not over-commit to things you cannot do. Focus on what you can offer in terms of resources and time.
Managing interpersonal conflict with someone with Borderline Personality Disorder
Conflicts, disagreements and arguments are normal parts of daily life, however can be difficult for people with BPD, as these can be interpreted as signs that the other person does not care for them, igniting feelings of shame and anger.
Supporting someone with BPD may mean providing healthier perspectives around conflict and reminders that conflicts in themselves are not necessarily bad, and in fact are part of healthy relationships. Clients have said that when people in their life stay and provide support despite differences, it provides acceptance and attachments that create meaningful change.
Things you can do include communicating throughout the conflict your feelings and reassurance that disagreement is not a bad thing. You may also like to call or visit after a disagreement. Try to focus on the person rather than the behaviour and demonstrate understanding and forgiveness.
People with BPD need reassurance that you have no given up on them, this is an important aspect of how to support a family or friend with Borderline Personality Disorder .
Take suicide seriously
Sadly, people who experience BPD are among the highest risk population for suicide, with 10% completing suicide and 75% of individuals with self-harm, including cutting, burning or other kinds of injury.
They are one of the most at-risk populations for suicide. If your loved one makes any gestures indicating that they are feeling suicidal, take it seriously. Ask them how serious they are about these thoughts and let them know you are concerned for their safety. If in doubt, do not hesitate to call Lifeline or triple 0 while supporting someone with Borderline Personality Disorder.
Care for yourself
One of the hardest things to remember is that you have the right to care for yourself. The old ‘you can’t help others with an empty cup’ is so true. You will find that caring and supporting a loved one with BPD will empty your cup. How do I support a family or friend with Borderline Personality Disorder ?
You can join support groups for BPD family members and friends, make sure you have your own life full of hobbies and other people and avoid the temptation to isolate. Seek professional mental health help in order to have help in developing your own support system.
Always consider your own limits and be self-aware of these. Responding in a healthy way is the most meaningful way you can care for your loved one, and self-acceptance and self-care is a powerful framework for your loved one.