Communicating With Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline personality disorder, or BPD, can seem like a daunting and scary diagnosis. It is a mental disorder characterized by extreme mood swings, trouble with interpersonal relationships, a tendency toward impulsivity, intense fear of abandonment, and an unstable self-image.

Sufferers may demonstrate self-harming and risky behaviors, and the NIMH reports that 80 percent of those diagnosed with BPD exhibit suicidal behaviors as well. It is important to understand, however, that these behaviors are a symptom of the disorder and usually actual suicide is likely not the intent or the outcome.

What to Expect When Someone Is Suffering From BPD

Understanding the signs and symptoms of borderline personality disorder is the first step in understanding how to manage and cope with the disorder, whether you or a loved one are affected. You can expect many if not all of the following symptoms:

  • Impulsive conduct
  • Risk-taking actions
  • Self-mutilating behavior
  • Suicidal actions or thoughts
  • Intense euphoria
  • Dejection and avoidance
  • Reckless driving habits
  • Impulsive and inappropriate spending
  • Fear of separation, abandonment and rejection, real or perceived
  • Clingy behavior
  • Self-loathing
  • Distorted self-image
  • Eating disorders
  • Chronic boredom
  • Feelings of emptiness
  • Depression
  • Substance abuse
  • Paranoia caused by stress
  • Dissociative feelings
  • Mood swings
  • Trouble controlling bouts of intense anger
  • Risky sexual behavior

A borderline personality diagnosis usually occurs in young adulthood and is reached when a pattern of these symptoms is observed over a period of time. The first step toward recovery is a diagnosis. If you are, or someone you love is, suffering from BPD, there are ways to get help.

How to Help

While a borderline personality disorder diagnosis may seem overwhelming, there are ways to manage and minimize symptoms, and there is even the possibility of reaching a full recovery. It is important to be understanding and patient and to know that while moods and feelings can be intense, they are not intended to be manipulative or destructive even if it may seem that way. Studies have shown that borderline personality disorder hinders a person’s ability to process negative emotions properly, and many turn this internally into anger and self-loathing.

If your loved one suffers from BPD, it is important to realize that they will have an intense fear of being rejected and abandoned, so much so that if you’re five minutes late or tell them of an upcoming vacation, it may be a trigger for their anger and withdrawal. While it may seem counterintuitive, one of the best ways to communicate with someone suffering from BPD may be to acknowledge their feelings before the facts of the situation. BPD causes intense moods and mood swings, and sufferers have trouble regulating their emotions. By verifying their feelings first, you may be able to diffuse a possible volatile situation.

It is also important to avoid giving in to a BPD person’s impulsive acts. While there are extreme lows associated with BPD, there are also extreme highs, and it can be easy to get sucked in. Be careful and understand these highs are also a symptom and can plummet to a low very quickly. Here are a few basic pointers for communicating with someone with borderline personality disorder in a healthy and productive way:

  • Be patient.
  • Be realistic.
  • Try to separate facts from feelings.
  • Validate feelings first.
  • Listen actively and be sympathetic.
  • Seek to distract when emotions rise.
  • Do not allow yourself to be the product of the intense anger; attempt to diffuse it but sometimes you may have to walk away.
  • Understand the symptoms and triggers.
  • Offer constructive criticism.
  • Help to set realistic goals.
  • Keep schedules consistent.
  • Encourage treatment.
  • Attend therapy together.

In managing BPD, remember to be consistent and predictable in your actions and reactions. Keep your word and also be honest. It is easy to go along with a tangent or rage about how awful someone or something is, but it is important to offer honest feedback since they may not even realize how their behavior is affecting others.

Do not take responsibility for their impulsive and irresponsible actions; do not try to save the situation or come to the rescue no matter how tempting it is. If they have wrecked their car, be supportive but encourage them to be responsible for their own actions. As difficult as it can be, keep your cool and don’t let arguments escalate.

Being aware of the triggers for an individual with borderline personality disorder can help to avoid them and the outbursts that accompany them. Understand you are not alone. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that one in four American adults suffer from a mental health disorder while 1.6 percent of Americans over 18 suffer from borderline personality disorder.

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