Living with someone who has borderline personality disorder (BPD) is not easy. Loved ones often admit the following feelings:

“One minute I am her best friend and the next, she won’t talk to me. Everything is a crisis or a conflict, and I am wondering if I should even answer the constant text messages blowing up my phone.”

This all-or-nothing behavior is characteristic of a person with BPD. The behavior can be exhausting for those in a relationship.

The person has interpersonal difficulty with constant fear of being rejected, separated, or abandoned. They can be impulsive, suicidal, engage in risky sexual behavior, substance use, and have mood swings. What is difficult for those around them is the lack of empathy often noticed. For some people, intense anger and aggression can land them in trouble with the law.

There is no medication treatment for BPD. Treatment involves interpersonal therapy. An effective type of therapy is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). DBT helps the person with interpersonal effectiveness, mindfulness, emotional regulation, and distress tolerance. It addresses better ways to cope with intense emotional emptiness.

When conflict escalates, the best thing that helps is a calm and relaxed environment. When the person is in crisis, wait until the crisis is over to discuss anything of meaning. If conflict escalates, take a deep breath, stay calm, and do not join in the emotional reactivity. That will only escalate things further.

Try listening. If that doesn’t help and things continue to escalate, tell the person you are taking a time-out to get perspective.

Do not get defensive despite what they say or in any way invalidate their feelings. Do not try to convince the person they are wrong, rather simply state what your position is in a calm and friendly way. Make sure your tone of voice is firm but matter-of-fact. Communicate that there is a solution if you both can talk it through.

If the person starts threatening self-harm, even if it is attention-seeking, you have to take it seriously. This means you need a plan to deal with this behavior. Have the person call his or her therapist, go to the emergency room with you, or call a hot line.

Let the person know you care and are listening to their emotional pain. Reflect and summarize what they say so they know they are heard and not abandoned. This will help de-escalate the moment.

To calm down the situation: distract, deflect, and delay. Most of all, do not take it personally. Remember, you can’t help the person’s intense reactions, all or nothing responses, or feelings of rejection, but you can control your response to the person. The more family or friends know how to handle these outbursts, the better.

The person struggling with BPD usually wants better relationships, but doesn’t typically recognize the patterns that cause problems. Thus, helping the person understand that therapy is a path to sort out these struggles might motivate the person to therapy.

Living with Borderline Personality Disorder

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