Does Someone You Love Have Borderline Personality Disorder?
We are a psychologically transparent society. Emotional problems are now shared openly – not only by celebs like Pete Davidson on SNL who was open with the world about having Borderline Personality Disorder but by your average person. It’s not unusual for people to tell friends that they have an anxiety disorder, anger management problems, depression, panic attacks, are bipolar, have certain phobias, an eating disorder, substance abuse problem, are OCD or ADD!
Borderline personality is famous for its characteristic fear of abandonment. This fear stems from invalidating and abusive relationships with the parents in childhood or adolescence.
In the first years of life, we humans rely on attention, love, and affection from our parents or caregivers. So when we get instead invalidating and offending behaviors, children tend to interpret these as signs of abandonment or punishment.
Yet, BPD is a widespread psychological disorder that most people know little or nothing about. Why? Because its symptoms are largely interpersonal, causing many to view it as a relationship issue, not a mental health one.
Also, people shy away from the term because of its unflattering name: Borderline Personality Disorder – or they mistake it with Bi-Polar Disorder.
Enough ignorance. Let’s review the major symptoms of borderline personality disorder (BPD).
Characteristics of Borderline Personality Disorder
They have turbulent and stormy relationships, making it difficult to keep a job or maintain a close relationship.
They have frequent emotional outbursts, often expressing their outrage with verbal abuse, physical attacks or acts of revenge.
Though they’re acutely sensitive to being abandoned and rejected, they’re harshly critical of those closest to them.
They view others as “good” or “bad.” A friend, parent or therapist may be idealized one day, yet viewed the next day as a terrible person for failing to live up to their expectations.
They may act out with self-destructive activity (i.e. reckless driving, compulsive shopping, shoplifting, cutting, binging with food, alcohol, drugs or promiscuous sex) as a way to fend off feelings of unbearable emptiness.
Borderline personalities run the gamut from mild to severe.
It’s generally only the people who know borderlines intimately who are aware of the extent of their emotional difficulties.
Some sociologists believe that we are living in a “borderline culture,” heavy on righteous anger, light on acknowledging another’s perspectives.
Watch daytime talk shows and you’ll understand what they mean. Or better yet, listen to the rhetoric of Congress and watch them in action (or should I say non-action).
If you recognize your own borderline characteristics, what should you do? If you’re motivated to change, psychotherapy with a psychologist who understands BPD can be quite helpful.
If you’re living with someone with BPD, life probably feels like an emotional roller coaster. So what can you do?
Certainly, suggesting psychotherapy is a good idea. Don’t be surprised, however, if he/she uses therapy not to seek understanding but to rage about others.
So, if therapy for your loved one is not moving forward, what can you do? Here are a few suggestions:
Be Consistent and Predictable
Whatever you have told your loved one that you will do (or won’t do), keep your word. If you’re the recipient of a violent outburst of accusations or a tearful meltdown, it won’t be easy.
However, if you give in to the outrage, the borderline behavior is reinforced. And if you think your problems are bad now, just wait!
Where does BPD come from?
Borderline rage is rooted in abandonment issues usually from preverbal times in a child’s life. Because the child has no language the hurt is deep and often inaccessible except through therapy.
BPD has a lot of connection with the environmental factors and the psychosocial dynamics of the patient’s families. Evidence shows that this disorder runs in families, suggesting it may have genetic components and that it is related to traumatic events that happened during childhood.
BPD typically begins in early adulthood and is more common in women than in men.
Borderline rage will often come boiling to the surface in the most seeming of innocent exchanges. In some cases, you may find your loved one can go from zero to nuclear in a matter of minutes when provoked.
Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)
Patients of BPD often show up as being argumentative, sarcastic, quick to take offense, irritable, and are generally hard to be around or live with. Their behavior is regularly impulsive and unpredictable.
Habits, which may include gambling, spending, cutting, unselective sexual activities and eating sprees can potentially be self-damaging.
Individuals are often manipulative, very sensitive to the way they are treated by others, specifically reacting strongly to criticism and being and or feeling hurt.
They often show the risk of self-harm and may have suicidal tendencies.
Who can possibly love me?
People with Borderline Personality Disorder find it almost impossible to believe that someone can love them for who they are because, after all, they often do not have any sense of who they are, to begin with.
When they find someone who says they love them, they will test them over and over again in order to get them to prove their love.
In essence, they bite the hand that feeds them. In this fashion, they set the stage for the other person to abandon them and repeat the old pattern all over again in an almost never-ending cycle.
When the person with Borderline Personality Disorder begins to learn, understand and believe through therapy that their own cognitive distortions about the nature of their relationships is what keeps them stuck in this endless cycle, they can begin to approach their relationships differently.
They can learn to stop being angry and full of rage at the entire world at large and renegotiate their closest relationships so they can enjoy them.
It can be very tricky to learn to be a different person. It starts with introspection.
Introspection (which is done through therapy, leads to insight and insight enables change.
The person with Borderline Personality Therapy can learn to recognize their triggers and figure out new ways to respond to them.
Respond as opposed to reacting. I used to say that I “had cancer in my soul” but after years and years of therapy, that cancer is now in remission.
Some days I think it has been cured entirely but I know that is not the case. I have learned my manage and regulate my emotions but must be ever-vigilant so as not to slip back into old behavior patterns.
Borderline rage is driven by fear and anxiety
When you actually sit down and think about it, borderline rage is driven by fear and anxiety.
Fear and anxiety about being abandoned by those we love. Fear and anxiety about being hurt again. Fear and anxiety about not being able to control one’s own environment and the relationships in which we are engaged.
Don’t become your loved one’s rescuer. Don’t be manipulated to take responsibility for his irresponsible actions.
If he smashes up the car, don’t replace it. If she racks up credit card debt, don’t bail her out. If you keep rescuing her from the consequences of her actions, she will have zero incentive to change.
Offer Honest Feedback
Don’t reinforce your loved one’s belief that he’s been treated unfairly unless you actually think that’s true.
People with BPD tend to be clueless about how their behavior impacts others. Hence, offer honest feedback.
Say, “I know it feels rotten when you’re fired” but don’t agree with his assessment that it’s all because of those awful, mean people he worked for.
Don’t Escalate the Argument
Your loved one may misinterpret what you mean. Offer constructive criticism and you’re met with a tirade of how despicable you are.
Offer a compliment and you’re accused of being patronizing. Explain your intentions and the emotions escalate.
Don’t get hooked into a fruitless argument. Do your best to keep your cool and your sanity even though you’re feeling frustrated, powerless and defeated by your loved one’s behavior.
How can you keep your cool and your sanity under incredibly difficult circumstances? Check out these helpful books:
I Hate You – Don’t Leave Me: Understanding the Borderline Personality, by Jerold Kreisman and Hal Straus
Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Care about has Borderline Personality Disorder, by Paul Mason and Randi Kreger
Loving Someone with Borderline Personality Disorder: How to Keep Out-of-Control Emotions from Destroying You, by Shari Manning and Marsha Linehan.
Medications like antidepressants, antipsychotics and mood stabilizers are used regularly to treat the co-existing symptoms of depression however the evidence for benefit for BPD is weak.
Therapeutic support in the form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy and psychodynamic therapy has been studied and used.
For a therapist to be working with BPD patients it takes a lot of flexibility and the ego strength to be projected at with negative attributions.
In many cases, psychiatric hospitalization is required or at least outpatient services.
Still, need more help? Consider investing in a few therapy sessions for yourself. Why you? You’re not the one with the problem.
Yes, but borderline personality disorder affects the whole family. If you learn skills to cope with your loved one’s behavior, trust me you will all be better off…
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