Personality disorders represent a unique struggle – not only for those who experience the condition but for the people in their life who love them. Individuals with personality disorders often cannot discern that their emotions are divergent from the usual way of reacting to others, and those with borderline personality disorder (BPD) can struggle to understand how their spouses, family members, and friends experience their complex and sometimes intense mood swings, reactions, and risky behavior.

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Those living with an individual with BPD are typically accustomed to crises and conflicts that can arise spontaneously. Loved ones may fear that the individual may harm themselves or fall into fits of rage if they do not respond “appropriately.” Coping effectively with borderline personality disorder necessitates de-escalating crises and cultivating independence in your loved one. With the right tools, resources, and strategies, recovery is possible.

Review: Signs and Symptoms
While a professional diagnosis is necessary, several observable symptoms may indicate a borderline personality disorder.

  • Strong fear of separation, rejection, or abandonment
  • Rapid swings in their perception of others’ character
  • Engaging in risky or self-destructive behaviors
  • Threats of suicide or self-harm
  • Challenges when empathizing with other people
  • Swings from happiness to intense self-criticism
  • Frequently loss of temper

Strategies for Living with a Loved One with BPD

Create a Calm Environment: Those with borderline personality disorder benefit from a relaxed and calm home environment. All loved ones who associate with the individual should understand which topics to avoid if the individual is experiencing a crisis. It would help if you were careful not to talk constantly about their disorder and its effects. However, it is also important not to over-stress progress, as this may cause reactionary self-sabotage. An individual may begin to self-sabotage. Those with BPD should be allowed to speak about their thoughts, interests, and personal events. Thoughts about the news, family events, and other leisure activities. Families should take advantage of good moments by sharing meals, laughing, and spending time together. Take the spotlight off the illness and allow the individual to experience a full range of positive emotions.

Communicate During Crisis: When a loved one acts reactively, they may be insulting or make unfounded accusations. Loved ones should resist the urge to react defensively, essentially matching their reactivity level. It is helpful to remind yourself that an individual with BPD finds it challenging to empathize with others and cannot effectively distinguish between a minor issue and a significant event. Instead of reacting, please take a deep breath (don’t take it personally) and listen to them while refraining from pointing out their flaws. The crisis is more easily diffused if the individual feels you are listening to them. If the conflict escalates to rage or threats, walk away and save any conversation for a later time.

Deal with the Threat of Self-Harm: If a person with BPD threatens to harm themselves, intervention may be necessary. Sometimes symptoms of self-harm may be less obvious, such as not eating, isolating themselves from others, excessive scratching of the skin, or shaving off their hair. These actions often indicate a person’s inability to express emotions verbally. All suicide threats should be taken seriously, but escalating every threat to a 911 call will give them a sense of power and result in repetitive threats to garner desired attention. While remaining vigilant, ask your loved one how they would like you to react when they threaten to hurt themselves – whether speaking with their mental health counselor, calling a suicide help hotline, or going to the emergency room. Giving them options for coping with their crisis can help to de-escalate their reactionary moods.

Look to Reduce Conflict: Listening and reflecting back can be the most effective strategy when communicating with a BPD individual. Though you may disagree with what they are saying, listening intently is not equal to an agreement – it is simply an acknowledgment of their emotions and thoughts. Statements of reflection help them to feel heard and validated. While you may feel the urge to argue or disagree with what you consider an irrational reaction, remember that the goal is not to win an argument but to de-escalate the conflict.

Get The Help You Need for Borderline Personality Disorder

It is important to get professional mental health assistance for an individual with a borderline personality disorder. However, it is equally essential for those living with these individuals to get the mental health break and peace they need to function. After all, loving a person with mental illness is challenging and can be overwhelming and exhausting.

Denise Schonwald is a nationally certified mental health counselor with expertise in working with individuals with BPD and their family members. She works with clients in any state and can set up a video consultation at a time convenient for you. Call today to learn more.

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