Caring for Someone with Borderline Personality Disorder

Does your partner struggle to trust you? Do you feel as though your loved one is constantly testing your relationship? Does your relationship feel like a rollercoaster?

These are common struggles within relationships, but they may be an indication of a personality disorder called Borderline Personality Disorder.

What exactly is Borderline Personality Disorder?

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a mental health disorder that is typically marked by intense fear of abandonment and/or a distorted negative sense of self. Symptoms usually surface in late adolescences into early adulthood. Women are often more likely to be diagnosed with this disorder, although men are not definitely not immune – read more about BPD facts and myths. Symptoms of BPD usually showcase themselves within interpersonal relationships, which is why caring for an individual with BPD can be challenging.

What are common symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder?

Individuals with borderline personalities may become particularly intimate, needy, paranoid, clingy or over involved in relationships in order to ensure comfort within a relationship and prevent abandonment. On the other extreme, they also may participate in impulsive, hostile, and destructive behaviors as a means to “test” the relationship.

Other characteristics may speak more to a distorted, negative sense of self. Feelings of anxiousness and depression are common. Does your loved one struggle to plan for their future? Feelings of inferiority, helplessness, and extreme pessimism about the future all feed into their negative sense of self, as they may anticipate failing if they set goals.

What are the relationship challenges for individuals with BPD?

Trust and fear of abandonment is a key issue in personal relationships and often results in a person acting out, testing, or placing strain on the relationship.

Relationships are often described by loved ones as a roller coaster. Individuals with BPD may pull their relationships close with intimate behavior, numerous phone calls, or the desire to spend all of their time together. They will then try to test the relationship if they feel their partner is pulling away with hostile interactions, or impulsive and sometimes dangerous choices in order to receive concern or attention in the relationship.

As you can imagine this rollercoaster ride can place a strain on even the strongest, most loving of relationships.

How can I cultivate a healthy relationship with someone who has a borderline personality?

  1. Discuss and create these boundaries together. This will protect both of you from allowing the extremes from taking over your quality time. Common boundaries may be:
    – Preplanning time together and sticking to the plan
    – Setting rules for appropriate times to phone one another
    – Respecting one another’s time, its impossible to respond to SMS’s immediately.
  2. Be prepared to be tested. If there are boundaries set, it will be natural for an individual with BPD to try and test them. Patient, loving and firm reminders about why the boundaries were set can keep you on track.
  3. Separate the symptom from the person. Anger is natural when BPD begins to alter your relationship with destructive symptoms. Separating the BPD symptoms from the individual can be helpful. (i.e. “Jennifer didn’t mean to say those hateful things. This is an example of Jennifer testing whether or not this will push me away.”)
  4. Establish a safety plan. Thoughts and threats of suicide are unfortunately common characteristics of BPD. Establish a plan involving community professionals for your loved one to utilise in a time of need. A plan that reduces dependence on utilising interpersonal relationships and encourages professional help may be supportive of minimizing suicide threats as a means to test boundaries within a relationship. Find out more about Life Line 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention hotline.
  5. Take care of yourself. Loving someone with BPD can become tiring. Give yourself time away. Find a support group. Do things you enjoy. Remember you must take care of yourself in order to care of others.
  6. Find a team. Individuals with BPD often struggle to see the importance or sometimes necessity of treatment. The good news is mental health professionals are trained in treatment of BPD and are prepared when clients try to test the therapeutic relationship. Treatment of BPD is possible with love, support, education, consistency, and professional treatment. Find a mental health provider near you to aid you and your loved one through this challenging time.

If you are thinking about talking with a psychologist or would like to give therapy a chance, call us on (02) 6262 6157 or book an appointment online.

Related reading:

Going from Good to Great in Your Relationship
Making the Most of Couples Counselling
The Little Things Happy Couples Do Every Day

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