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Borderline Personality Disorder: How to Recognize, Respond and Reach Out for Help

Loving someone with borderline personality disorder (BPD) can be a confusing and challenging experience. BPD is a mental health condition characterized by intense emotions, unstable relationships, and impulsive behaviors. Witnessing these struggles in a loved one can leave you feeling hurt, frustrated, and unsure how to help.

This blog aims to equip you with the knowledge to recognize signs of BPD in a loved one and guide you towards supporting them. It’s important to remember that a diagnosis can only be made by a qualified mental health professional, but understanding these symptoms can be a crucial first step.

Emotional Rollercoaster: Unstable Mood Swings

People with BPD often experience intense and rapidly changing moods. They might be feeling happy and affectionate one moment, then become angry or depressed the next. These mood swings can be unpredictable and last for hours or even days.

Imagine your loved one excitedly planning a fun outing with you, only to lash out with accusations of neglect a few hours later. This emotional volatility can be incredibly confusing and emotionally draining for those around them.

Walking on Eggshells: Unstable Relationships

Relationships with someone with BPD can feel like walking on eggshells. They may idealize you at first, putting you on a pedestal. However, this idealization can quickly shift to intense anger or disappointment if you don’t meet their (often unspoken) expectations. This “splitting” behavior can leave you feeling like you can never do anything right.

Fear of Abandonment: A Constant Anxious Dread

People with BPD often have a deep-seated fear of abandonment or being alone. This fear can manifest in various ways, from clingy behavior to pushing others away to avoid potential rejection. They might misinterpret neutral actions as signs of abandonment, leading to dramatic reactions.

Impulsive Actions: Seeking Relief in Risky Behaviors

Individuals with BPD may engage in impulsive and risky behaviors in an attempt to cope with overwhelming emotions. This could include substance abuse, unsafe sex, reckless driving, or binge eating. These actions often create more problems than they solve, but the urge to seek immediate relief can be overwhelming.

Self-Harm: A Painful Way to Manage Pain

People with BPD may resort to self-harm behaviors like cutting, burning, or hitting themselves. This is not a suicide attempt but a way to manage intense emotional pain. The physical pain offers a temporary distraction from emotional distress.

Shifting Identity: An Unstable Self-Image

Someone with BPD may struggle with a poor sense of self-worth and a rapidly changing self-image. They might feel unsure of who they are, what they want in life, or what their values are. This lack of a stable identity can lead to feelings of emptiness and confusion.

Chronic Emptiness: A Never-Ending Void

People with BPD often experience chronic feelings of emptiness or boredom. They may feel a sense of purposelessness despite outward achievements or successes. This emptiness can be a driving force behind impulsive behaviors or clingy attachments.

Dissociation: Feeling Disconnected

In some cases, individuals with BPD may experience dissociation, a feeling of being disconnected from themselves or their surroundings. They might feel like they’re in a dream or watching themselves from outside their body. This can be a coping mechanism to escape overwhelming emotions.

It’s Not Your Fault, But You Can Help

It’s important to understand that these symptoms are not a reflection on you or your relationship. BPD is a mental health condition, and your loved one needs professional help to manage it effectively.

Here are some ways you can support a loved one with BPD:

  • Educate Yourself: Increase your understanding of BPD by reading reliable resources like the National Institute of Mental Health [NIMH]: https://infocenter.nimh.nih.gov/sites/default/files/publications/borderline-personality-disorder_0.pdf
  • Communicate Effectively: Use “I” statements to express your feelings and avoid accusatory language. Focus on specific behavior and its impact without attacking their character.
  • Set Healthy Boundaries: Establish clear boundaries to protect yourself from manipulative behavior or emotional outbursts. Don’t be afraid to walk away from a heated conversation and revisit it when everyone is calmer.
  • Validate Their Feelings: While you don’t need to agree with their every reaction, acknowledge their emotions without judgment. Let them know you care and are there to listen.
  • Encourage Professional Help: Gently encourage them to seek help from a qualified mental health professional specializing in BPD treatment. You can even offer to help them find a therapist or accompany them to their first appointment.
  • Take Care of Yourself: Taking care of yourself emotionally and physically is crucial. Practice self-care activities like mindfulness, exercise, and spending time with supportive loved ones. 

At MIG Counseling, we help those with mood disorders like BPD manage their symptoms and lead healthy lives. It’s important to remember that these symptoms don’t always apply to every person, so self-diagnosing isn’t encouraged. But if you recognize some of these symptoms in someone you love, it’s vital for them to see a therapist. Contact us today to talk about the ways we can help. 

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