Whether you’re dating someone with BPD or it’s a family member or friend, it’s difficult to watch someone you care about try to cope with borderline personality disorder (BPD). This complex mental health condition causes mood instability, delusional thinking, self-deprecation, and other adverse symptoms that can seriously strain intrapersonal relationships.
While it’s very possible to learn how to help someone with BPD, it’s equally important to ensure proper self care. Read on to learn about helping someone with borderline personality disorder while taking care of yourself in the process. We’re giving you tips on how you can do both.
1. Know the Common Signs and Symptoms of BPD
If you want to learn how to help someone with BPD, understanding as much as possible about the common signs and BPD symptoms is the first step. While we don’t quite understand what causes borderline personality disorder, knowing how to recognize common traits empowers you to help your loved one in the best ways possible.
According to Talkspace therapist Reshawna Chapple, PhD, LCSW, the common signs of borderline personality disorder start with a long history of unstable/unhealthy self-image and affects impulsivity beginning by early adulthood with at least 5 of the following:
- Fear of abandonment
- Unstable interpersonal relationships
- Unhealthy self-image; struggles with identity or sense of self
- Impulsive behavior
- Suicidal behavior or self-injury
- Mood swings
- Problems managing anger
Fear of abandonment
Many people with BPD have an intense fear of being alone or abandoned. They may be triggered by something as simple as you arriving home from work a little late, or planning a weekend trip away without them. They might react by frantically begging, clinging, or even trying to physically prevent you from leaving.
Borderline personality disorder can result in powerful but short-lived relationships. People with BPD may fall in love easily or believe that a new partner can make them feel whole and “normal.” Interpersonal relationships when one person has BPD tend to either be all or nothing in terms of intensity. Often there’s very little middle ground.
Unhealthy self-image; struggles with identity or sense of self
BPD typically involves an unstable sense of self. Sometimes people might have an amazing sense of self-worth, and other times they may utterly hate themself.
People with BPD are often unclear about who they want to be or what they want to accomplish in life. They may frequently change jobs, goals, friends, sexual partners, or even core values.
Sometimes BPD can cause people to engage in risky behaviors. They might often overspend, overeat, recklessly drive, or have inappropriate sex. They also may shoplift, partake in alcohol or substance abuse, or engage in a variety of behaviors that make it difficult for others to be around them.
Suicidal behavior or self-injury
Intentional self-harm and suicidal behavior are not uncommon for people with borderline personality disorder. They might exhibit suicidal thoughts, gestures, threats, and attempts. Self-harm, like cutting and burning, is also common.
Emotional instability and abrupt mood changes for no apparent reason are typical for people with BPD, especially with borderline personality disorder in teens. They may feel happy one moment and be enraged the next. The smallest things other people say or do can set them off into an emotional whirlwind. These mood swings typically pass quickly, but they can also last for days.
Many people with borderline personality disorder report feeling empty, like there’s nothing of substance inside them. They feel a void. In extreme cases, they may feel that they’re nobody, or nothing. It’s not uncommon that they try to fill these voids with sex, reckless behavior, food, or drugs.
Problems managing anger
Borderline personality disorder can cause someone to struggle with a short temper and/or bouts of intense anger. They might have trouble controlling themself in social situations or even when they’re alone.
Anger can be directed outward in the form of screaming, throwing things, or punching a wall. It can also be directed inwardly, which can be a trigger for a pattern of self-harm.
There are several ways you can help a loved one cope with and manage BPD symptoms.
2. Offer Validation and Listen Well
People with BPD often experience intense emotional reactions that can make it challenging for others to relate to them. If you’re not prepared for these extreme behaviors, it can be tempting to want to walk away from the situation.
However, if you really want to know how to help someone with borderline personality disorder, it’s important to validate their feelings, even if you don’t understand where they’re coming from.
Be patient and listen carefully as your loved one expresses how they’re feeling. Resist the temptation to argue or dismiss their feelings, both of which can be extremely painful for them.
“Counseling, validation, and helping the client learn to love themself is helpful in allowing the person to focus on themselves and start to develop healthy relationships.”Talkspace therapist Reshawna Chapple, PhD, LCSW
3. Encourage Them to Take Responsibility for Their Actions
Knowing how to help someone with BPD involves encouraging them to be responsible for what they think, say, and do.
It’s normal to want to help a loved one, but it’s not helpful if you’re constantly taking care of them. The best thing you can do for someone with BPD is encourage them to be accountable. This doesn’t mean totally abandoning them. Rather, it just means you no longer attempt to rescue them from the results of every one of their own actions.
4. Do Not Ignore Self-Destructive Behavior
When you’re helping someone with borderline personality disorder, you need to take any threats of self-harm or suicide seriously. Be careful not to misinterpret suicidal threats or gestures as forms of manipulation. Be patient. Keep talking to them, and be prepared to call 911 if needed.
“It’s really important that self-destructive behaviors are acknowledged. They don’t have to be focused on, but understanding how someone is triggered is important.”Talkspace therapist Reshawna Chapple, PhD, LCSW
5. Be Consistent
Consistency is a key component of knowing how to help someone with borderline personality disorder. As mentioned, many people with BPD experience attachment issues or a fear of abandonment, which can ultimately make it difficult for them to trust others.
Supporting someone with borderline personality disorder requires honesty and consistency. If your goal is to help them manage their condition in the future, it’s important to follow through with what you commit to. If you tell them you’ll do something, do it.
6. Encourage Them to Find Treatment
Some people with borderline personality disorder are reluctant to seek help, especially if they’ve had negative experiences with mental health
care professionals in the past.
However, professional treatment is essential to restoring emotional stability and improving the chance that your loved one can find long-term happiness. Encouraging them to seek professional help to treat borderline personality disorder is one of the best things you can do for them.
7. Check in with Yourself
Helping someone with borderline personality disorder can be taxing. It’s natural, however, that when you love someone, you’re willing to do anything for them.
It’s not uncommon for friends and family members of people with BPD to experience fear, embarrassment, shame, and even isolation as they work tirelessly to help. Don’t let this happen to you. Taking the time to care for yourself is important if you’re going to be able to do anything for them.
Eat a healthy diet, hydrate, get plenty of exercise, sleep well, get outdoors, and in general, keep your mind, body, and spirit positive. Don’t let trying to help consume you to the point that you can’t do anything more for your loved one who’s living with BPD.
If you’re having trouble with your mental health, consider talking to a licensed mental health professional, in-person or through online therapy.