How to Interact with a Loved One or Friend with Borderline Personality Disorder
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According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately 1 in 25 individuals suffer from borderline personality disorder. In fact, this condition is quite common.
So, what is borderline personality disorder? Well, it is a serious mental illness characterized by fluctuating moods, erratic behaviors, and dysfunctional relationships. Truth-be-told, it can be quite hard to be around a friend or loved one with a borderline personality. Why? Well, this person may intentionally create conflict between you and others (triangulation). Moreover, he or she may deliberately manipulate you by playing with your emotions, and/or drawing you in his or her problems. These types of behaviors can be alienating, which is a common fear amongst those with this type of personality disorder. It is important to not only set clear and firm boundaries, but also to be consistent, and hold your loved one or friend accountable for his or her actions. Are you interested in learning how to interact with a friend or loved one with borderline personality disorder? If so, you are in luck because this article will provide you with valuable suggestions that will help you effectively interact with this individual.
Listed below are effective ways to interact with a friend or loved one with a borderline personality:
First, you will want to establish clear and firm boundaries. Limit the time you spend interacting with your loved one or friend. Reinforce your boundaries when needed, and develop consequences, if your loved one or friend infringes on those boundaries. So, why do I need to set boundaries and limit the amount of time I spend with my mentally ill friend or loved one? Well, because he or she will most likely demand all of your attention, and get agitated if he or she is not the center of your world, which will become quite taxing over time. Moreover, he or she may follow you around to the point of being “stalkerish.” Therefore, it is extremely important that you implement healthy boundaries when you around your loved one or friend. Set specific guidelines, rules, and consequences. It may feel odd at first, but you will be glad that you set them, when your loved one’s behavior spirals out of control.
Keep Conversations Light
Another good way to interact with a loved one or friend with a borderline personality is to keep conversations light. In other words, do not try to talk to this person about politics, bad experiences, and/or emotionally-charged topics, because they may remind him or her of a time when he or she was betrayed, lied to, tricked, and/or hurt. It may spark feelings of resentment and anger towards you – even though you had nothing to do with those experiences. It also may cause your loved one or friend to slip into depression or become anxious.
As a way to deal with these hurtful and conflicting feelings, this person may lash out at you – calling you names, blaming you for what happened (when you weren’t even around), and/or becoming violent. If possible, try to redirect your loved one or friend to happier, lighter, more positive topics, but if that does not work, politely excuse yourself from the situation (i.e. make up an excuse why you need to leave at that moment). So, do not get “too deep” with your mentally ill loved one or friend. Instead, focus on happy, positive topics that will not (hopefully) trigger his or her anger, anxiety, and/or depression.
Be Clear & Firm
If you want to effectively interact with a loved one or friend with borderline personality disorder, you will need to be clear and firm with him or her - at all times. For instance, if you tell your mentally ill sister that you will help her catch up on her bills, and later she asks you for $300 to purchase an Apple iPhone – explain to her that you are only able to help with her bills, not her “wants.” If she becomes depressed, angry, and/or agitated do not change your mind and give her the money. Rather, stick by your decision, and if she becomes mean, hateful, and/or hostile towards you - leave her presence until she is calmer.
Moreover, if your mentally ill brother constantly threatens suicide to get your attention (with no intentions on following through with the threat), calmly explain to him that you will no longer listen to his suicide threats. Let your brother know that you will contact 911 for him, but you will no longer run to rescue him when he is only doing it for attention. This may be hard for you to do, but it will teach your brother that his actions have consequences. As a result of your clear and firm boundaries, your brother will quickly learn that his suicide threats only land him in the back of a police car – on the way to a psychiatric treatment facility.
Focus on the Present
Another thing you will want to do, if you want to interact with a loved one or friend with a borderline personality is focus on the present. People with borderline personality disorder tend to obsess about past wrongs and betrayals. And, as a result they can become angry or sad very quickly. The best thing you can do when you sense that this person is traveling down a dark path is to steer the conversation back to the present (here-and-now). Do not allow your loved one or friend to wallow in self-pity, rehash old wrongs, or get wrapped up in his or her “feelings.” Also, do not let your loved one or friend fret over the future, and what “may” happen. Refrain from commenting on what he or he says (when speaking about “old hurts” and past experiences) because it will only encourage him or her to continue. Repeat the redirection every time your loved one or friend starts talking about the past.
Steer Away from Negative Behaviors
You can successfully interact with a loved one or friend with a borderline personality by steering him or her away from negative behaviors. For instance, if your loved one or friend begins to criticize, judge, bully, and/or gossip about others, change the topic to something more positive. Do not engage him or her, while he or she is participating in negative behaviors. In other words, do not listen to it, and definitely do not comment on what he or she is saying. Consistently redirect the conversation when your mentally ill loved one or friend starts in with the negativity. Commenting (agreeing or disagreeing) only reinforces the “bad” behavior. To the person with borderline personality disorder, your participation signifies validation. Plus, it only encourages him or her to create more conflicts, manipulate more people’s emotions, and cause more trouble for everyone.
Another way to successfully interact with your loved one or friend with borderline personality disorder is to be empathetic. Truth-be-told, being around a person with a personality disorder can be stressful, frustrating, and/or overwhelming, regardless of whether or not he or she is a loved one or friend, however it is important that you be compassionate and understanding towards him or her. Why? Well, because it is not your loved one’s fault that he or she has borderline personality disorder. In other words, no one wants to be mentally ill, and no one wants to always be angry, sad, anxious, or depressed.
This person has a medical condition, but instead of it being physical in nature, it is psychological. It is important to remember that fact when your loved one’s behavior becomes unbearable. One the other hand, however, he or she will need to try to behave more appropriately, stay in the present, stick to set boundaries, seek treatment, and take responsibility for his or her own behaviors. You, on the other hand, need to understand that your loved one or friend cannot help the way he or she is – it is a part of his or her personality, which is very hard to change.
Take Care of Yourself
Lastly, if you want to have the stamina to interact with your mentally ill loved one or friend, you will need to take care of yourself. Many times when people are caring and/or supporting some with a mental illness like borderline personality disorder, it can be quite hard on the body and mind. Therefore, it is important that you set aside time to do what makes you happy – to de-stress and relax (both before spending time with your loved one and following it). For instance, go to dinner with friends, catch a movie at the theater, draw a long, hot bubble bath, read a book, exercise, go get an ice cream cone, play with your puppy, dance around the house, sleep, or write in a diary. Taking time out for yourself will better equip you for the challenges that come with being a support system for your loved one or friend.
One thing you may want to consider when interacting with a loved one or friend with a borderline personality is that he or she may be highly sensitive, especially if he or she thinks you do not want to be around him or her. Moreover, your loved one or friend may become upset, if you exclude him or her from your plans, so when possible include this person into your plans. Truth-be-told, you will not be able to do this all of the time, but when you can – do it. It will make your loved one feel valued, which will be beneficial for you, your loved one, and your relationship.
- Dr. R. Y. Langham
Grohol, J. M. (2015). Borderline personality disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved from http://psychcentral.com/lib/symptoms-of-borderline-personality-disorder/0001063
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). (2015). Borderline personality disorder: Fact Sheet. Retrieved from http://www2.nami.org/factsheets/bpd_factsheet.pdf
National Institute of Mental Health. (2015). What is borderline personality disorder? Retrieved from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/borderline-personality-disorder/index.shtml