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When Someone You Love Has Borderline Personality Disorder

As someone living with borderline personality disorder (BPD), here are some things I want people in my life to know about how to support me and our relationship. Everyone’s different, but if you know someone living with BPD, these tips might help.

First of all…

1. Take care of yourself. 

You can’t save them; you can’t rescue them from themselves. Only the person with BPD can do that. So it’s really important to remember to take care of yourself. Make sure you stay in touch with friends and family outside the relationship and manage your own stress. If you ever need to leave an escalating situation, do it.

2. Put strict boundaries into place, and stick to them.

You need to be straight about your boundaries with a person living with BPD. Don’t lie to them about how you’re feeling. If calling you at 3 a.m. is inappropriate, tell them. Lying about your boundaries will only make things worse.

3. Don’t take their behavior personally.

I can imagine this is hard, but it’s important to remember our behavior isn’t always under our control. And if it seems like I’m playing favorites, know that’s just the nature of my disorder.

4. Seperate the person from their behavior.

When you have to address an issue with someone with BPD, make sure it’s clear you’re upset about his or her behavior, not who they are. Reinforcing this regularly will make them a little more secure.

5. Pay attention to timing. 

It’ll be helpful to learn when it’s an appropriate time to raise heated issues within your relationship. For example, if I’m feeling particularly vulnerable, insecure and rejected, it might be better to bring up an emotionally loaded conversation another time.

6. If a conversation is escalating, delay and distract. 

One thing you can say is, “Why don’t we take some time to think and talk about this later?” Stay calm and speak in a way that affirms but doesn’t feed into them. Something like: “I’m feeling upset. But your feelings are important to me and I need some time to process them.”

Or, suggest a distraction — shopping, watching a movie, anything to pull attention away from the discussion.

7. Don’t invalidate.

I grew up believing my emotions were “wrong.” I felt like I had to get emotional value from other people. Hearing things like, “There’s nothing to cry about” made me feel like I had to push my feelings aside, which would only lead to an explosion of emotions. Telling a person with BPD that, “You’ve got nothing to be sad about” and “Other people have it worse than you,” simply invalidates them more, feeding their negative cycles and making them believe their feelings are “wrong.”

Pay attention to what you learn from your time with someone with BPD. You’ll learn about their behavior, their triggers and what you can do to make it better or worse. It’s a steep learning curve, but if you can get it right together, you’ll find a fiercely loyal, caring and loving individual who wants to have a happy relationship.