Do you love a person diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder?
Are you exhausted by the emotional roller coaster ride?
Are you tired of the conflict, confusion and mood changes?
Do you feel discouraged and lost with few understanding people around?
To answer these questions let’s begin with a brief review of BPD; how relationships are impacted and what can be done to nurture and maintain a healthy, balanced relationship with a BPD diagnosed person.
What is BPD?
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is characterized by poor self-image, impulsive high risk behaviors, fear of abandonment, conflict, persistent negative reactions, frequent mood changes, and intense anger with temper display. There is frequent vacillation between clinging to the loved one and complete withdrawal from them. The BPD individual will report feeling non-existent, they experience identity confusion, and there are often extreme spending sprees that may cause financial difficulties. Most of their relationships are characterised by frequent conflict, suicidal gestures, and extreme vigilance in watching for signs of imminent abandonment by a loved one. The individual is prone to very negative thinking and is often unable to move out of this perception for long periods of time. Negative reactions can be much bigger and more dramatic than the actual situation warrants.
What do the symptoms mean for the relationship?
The loved one who lives with the BPD individual often feels confused, hurt and overwhelmed. Constant demands for reassurance, followed by complete withdrawal and the
extreme spending cause endless conflict, yelling, confusion and chaos at home. Children often feel afraid of the BPD parent because they are unpredictable. In older children, however, there may be a strong belief that they must be the caretaker of the BPD parent. Role confusion for family members is common in this household.
These relationships begin with lots of passion and excitement, just like everyone else. But, at the first sign of real or imagined abandonment, the BPD individual is desperate to avoid abandonment. This may cause them to use suicidal gestures to gain control over their loved one, using fear of a potential suicide to coerce a declaration of love and commitment from the loved one. This can quickly become an entrenched and dysfunctional pattern for this couple.
At the same time that these symptoms are true, it is also true that the BPD person is a fun, caring, compassionate, interesting and engaging person who is also an excellent parent and partner. They may have very responsible jobs, do volunteer work, play sports or do amazing art work. A BPD diagnosis guarantees there will be inconsistency in behaviors, so loved ones needs to develop the skills to manage the confusion and awkwardness.
So what might these skills look like? Here are a few Key Pointers:
- Be sure you have a thorough understanding of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) using only professional, reliable resources. This will keep you from taking the dramatic behaviors and confusion to heart. Many partners of BPD individuals have adopted the slogan “Your crisis is not MY crisis” to remind themselves that things can get pretty exaggerated and responsibilities do get offloaded, when the BPD individual is in a full blown episode.
- Get some counselling to learn more about how to responsibly manage your own emotions, thoughts and behaviors. This is key to a stable relationship. If you join the roller coaster of the BPD episode you will lose your balance and get very tired.
- Learn how to set clear, reasonable boundaries with your partner. It’s important to let them know what is unacceptable to you. Your counsellor can help you with the specifics of your situation.
- Try to avoid saying or showing any kind of rejection to the BPD individual. Keep talking and keep everyone in the loop. BPD individuals will frequently use triangulation, drawing others into the conflict with their partner, to intensify the dramatic storyline. This can be avoided with open communication that keeps everyone informed. This means no side bar conversations, so always include your partner in the conversation. They will see you are aware of what is happening. The triangulation dissolves and immediately loses power, when this approach is used.
- Talk to your partner about using a marriage counsellor who is well informed about BPD to help you both through the crisis points. A skilled counsellor will cut through the confusion and help you stay on track.
- Create a story board of your family that is hung in a prominent place in your home. Make sure there are pictures and stories of all the wonderful people and events in your lives. Do this together as a family when your partner is feeling well. This board can be an anchor for the whole family when things get tense and chaotic. You might even want to make a contract together that you will return to the story board when things get tough to remind yourselves about great family times.
- Keep in touch with your own extended family and friends and sometimes see people without your partner. Talk to them if you are struggling and let them love you! You need a stable life outside the relationship to get love and support just for you. The BPD relationship can sometimes mean your needs get shelved because you have a new crisis to deal with today. Make sure you take care of yourself by keeping in touch with people who love you.
Borderline Personality Disorder is a challenge, no doubt about it. It means you need to educate yourself, get support, set clear boundaries and keep lines of communication open. But really, if you think about it, isn’t that what we all need to do when we love somebody? Everybody needs to make a special effort to be fully engaged when our loved ones are sick, injured or in chronic pain. BPD asks for the same kind of commitment that all of us face when we love another person.
As you continue along the path of loving a BPD individual take heart! This disease is manageable for the individual and for the ones who love them. It just means learning a new way to communicate, always asking for help when you need it and remaining open to learning new ways of coping and loving in your family.
At_____________we understand the struggles and we know the joys too. Give us a call if you have any questions at all. We are here to support the whole family, as your loved one learns how to manage their symptoms and the overwhelming emotional information. We know BPD and we support your family all the way. Call us, we care, we can help.