Supporting someone with Borderline Personality Disorder

Blue Tree’s intern and aspiring psychologist (seen here above) Alexis Baker writes about the difficulties in helping someone with borderline personality disorder….

People with borderline personality disorder (BPD) typically experience difficulties in maintaining stable relationships, in addition to struggling with a distorted sense of self and strong emotional reactions. During times of stress, these emotions can be so intense that people can feel unable to cope and may experience self-harm or suicidal thoughts. It is important to remember that being diagnosed with a personality disorder does not mean someone has a ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ personality, but that their past negative experiences impact the way in which they see themselves and relate to others. BPD often develops due to previous traumatic childhood experiences, such as abuse, being exposed to long-term fear distress, or having a close family member with serious mental illness. Unresolved emotions from these traumatic experiences can manifest as a variety of distorted thinking patterns in adulthood that characterise BPD. These can include (but are not limited to):  Feeling alone     Doubts about who you are     Feeling empty     Wondering if anyone cares about you                    Feeling abandoned         Rapidly switching between extreme emotions     Hearing voices The impulsive behaviours, mood swings, outbursts of anger, and fear of abandonment that those with BPD can display often lead others close to them feeling helpless, abused, and exhausted. You may feel trapped by their symptoms and forced to ride the emotional rollercoaster that currently defines your relationship. However, if this is the case, you have more power to change this than you think. While there is no magic trick to cause the challenges of BPD to vanish, the right approach and support can help relationships to become much more stable and rewarding and can even encourage your loved one to get more out of their BPD treatments.Here are some tips for supporting someone with BPD:
  • Take some time to learn about their disorder and what they are going through. Listening to them and acknowledging their feelings is a powerful way to support someone with BPD. Try to choose a suitable moment (i.e. not when they are being verbally abusive) when you can sit down and hear what they have to say. Ensure that you are not surrounded by any distractions (e.g. a tv, mobile phone, or other people) and make an effort not to redirect the topic to your own concerns, cast judgement, or start blaming them. While you do not need to agree with everything they are saying, simply make it clear that you are giving them your full attention to understand their thoughts. It is also important that you remain calm. Focusing more on their overall emotions rather than specific words can help you achieve this and avoid arguments and frustration. You may also find these conversations easier if you understand more about BPD in general, such as reading more blogs, books, or watching YouTube videos.
 
  • Acknowledge that they are more than their disorder. It is important to remember that your loved one has more elements to them than just their BPD alone. Take the time to explore other hobbies and interests that they have, or even something new they have not tried yet! Discussions about lighter subjects can also help to diffuse any frustration between you and act as a reminder for the things you have in common and like to do together. If they are experiencing an episode of strong emotion (e.g. anger or frustration) you can also seek to distract them from their symptoms through easy activities such as making a cup of tea, stroking a pet, caring for houseplants, or listening to music. In doing so, you are preventing their stressful behaviours and emotions from defining the time you spend together.
 
  • Set healthy boundaries. Establishing limits within your relationship will not only provide you with more structure and reliability within you interactions, but also allow your loved one to practice handling limits within the real world (e.g. at school or at work). Consistent boundary setting is also key to establishing trust within relationships. Try to calmly set limits like ‘I love you and I care about what you have to say, but your behaviour is causing me too much stress. I can’t be there for you unless you make this change for me’. If you have never set boundaries before, the other person is likely to react negatively towards them at first. However, by slowly introducing them bit by bit and staying consistent, you will both start to feel greater respect for one-another. However, it is important that you do not make ultimatums that you cannot carry out and it is vital that you are not tolerant of ongoing abusive behaviour. Remember the 3 C’s: I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, I can’t cure it. If you are experiencing abuse it is important that you seek extra support.
 
  • Learn to manage stress. You have a life outside of your relationship with someone with BPD. It is important that you do not let the stress of this relationship flow into other aspects of your life. This also prevents you from becoming overwhelmed when you are caught up in your loved one’s agitation, which could make things even worse. It is not selfish to create some time for yourself to have fun and enjoy life without the other person! Keep up with your own hobbies and ensure you do not neglect your own physical health (e.g. eating healthily, regular exercise). You can also consider practical methods to manage your stress when your loved one is experiencing high emotion, such as leaving the room and doing some breathing exercises or going on a walk. Only through managing your own mental and physical wellbeing will you be able to effectively support your loved one through their diagnosis.
As with many mental health diagnoses, BPD affects not only the individual diagnosed but the people around them. It is completely normal to feel stressed and burnt out within your relationship with someone with BPD and we hope that these tips will help things become easier.If you continue to struggle, it would be beneficial to reach out for further support. And remember BPD is curable!However, if you wish to speak to a professional, The Blue Tree Clinic have dedicated therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists who are able to help you if you need someone to talk to.They specialise in seeing patients with personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder.