The bulk of emails that I receive inquire about how to deal with a Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) relationship whether a parent, spouse, or sibling. Often I receive emails from women who have young children and don’t know how to protect their children from the BPD grandmother or BPD in-law. Also, another frequent topic is the discovery that the long-term abusive, toxic, and / or dysfunctional mother has BPD and how to proceed. How to deal with the BPD spouse is another topic that I receive.
The House of Cards
If you are trying to maintain a relationship with a BPD, first and foremost be prepared to protect yourself otherwise each minute unarmed will slowly make you lose the battle. You cannot survive a relationship with a BPD if your own self-esteem is shattered, so take care of yourself as the BPD is incapable of taking care of you.
The emotional cycle that a person with BPD goes through can be compared to a house of cards. The slightest wind can make the entire house fall over. Your focus is to try to remove the slightest wind and learn what makes the house of cards fall. Pay attention to surrounding experiences and anticipate ways to keep things calm.
If you can calm yourself, you can begin to try to navigate the stormy relationship into less windy skies. Remind yourself that the only aspect that you can control is how you respond. You cannot change the BPD’s behavior or how the BPD feels. Respond calmly and not impulsively to keep the winds calm and possibly discover new ways to communicate and manage your relationship with the BPD.
- Read About BPD Educating yourself about the BPD disorder can help you deal with it. The following is a link to a list of books about Borderline Personality Disorder: Good Reads- Borderline Personality Disorder I also use Amazon- Books About Borderline Personality Disorder because the Customer Reviews can sometimes be just as valuable as the book itself. Also find blogs such as mine to find narratives and information about BPD to educate and enlighten you on the subject as much as possible.
- Get Support
o Join a Support Group if you live with someone who has BPD. The support groups could be in your local area or online.
o Therapy for yourself is a consideration to help you deal with the issues you face with a BPD.
o Al-Anon meetings may be necessary in order to learn how to stop feeling guilty for her moods, addictions or explosions.
Boundaries provide structure to the relationship and prevent abuse. Protect yourself from damaging criticisms and verbal abuse with boundaries by:
- Setting personal boundaries Even if you understand BPD behaviors, know your own limits and stick by them. Never allow yourself to be abused.
- Avoiding imprisonment To regain control over you, she may accuse you of abandonment and betrayal, tell you how lonely and depressed she is, or threaten to harm you if you do not take care of her. Be compassionate but do not allow yourself to become imprisoned.
- Protecting children. Children can't care of themselves, and they're depending on you. Set limits and keep them out of harm's way.
- Avoiding sharing personal information Circumvent sharing personal information with the BPD because she will find fault with your decisions and choices.
- Setting times for discussion Sometimes the BPD can become very emotionally deregulated- agitated and irritated. Let the BPD know that her message is important but you need to set another time to discuss the issue.
- Limiting contact
o Try to keep distant.
o Try to live far away.
o Limit phone calls and visits.
o Put down the phone when she is nasty.
o Give up trying to please.
o Do not try to get through to her because she will insist that she has never been wrong.
o Keep things nice and shallow.
o Do not expect trust or predictability.
- Leaving if necessary. Do not tolerate physical threats, emotional abuse, or verbal abuse so leave temporarily if your relationship escalates to this level. Return after she has calmed down. Ultimately, sometimes the only thing you can do is leave the relationship when the BPD repeatedly runs over your boundaries, limits, or refuses treatment. Estrangement may be the healthiest long-term option.
What You Need to Understand
- Understand that BPD behaviors aren’t about you. Try to depersonalize what’s happening.
- Understand the BPD’s hot buttons and try not to push them but know that you won’t always succeed.
- Understand the reality of the situation. You cannot change the BPD’s behavior no matter how well you communicate with her. Only the BPD can eliminate her negative behavior. Your goal is simply respectful communication between you and the BPD.
- Understand simplicity. When speaking with the BPD, especially about sensitive issues, emotion may be heightened to the point that neither of you can think straight. Make each sentence short, simple, and direct with no room for misinterpretation.
- Understand the difference between the person and her behavior. Make it clear to the BPD that you dislike her behavior but you do not dislike her as a person. Emphasize this often.
- Understand sticking to the point. Ignore the BPDs attacks, threats, or attempts to change the subject. Stay calm and reiterate your point. If you're feeling attacked, calmly say that things are getting too hot and you'll be back in an hour / two hours / 5pm, etc Promptly, without further discussion, leave the location.
- Understand turning the problem over to the BPD. Turn the problem over to the BPD and ask for different solutions.
How to Communicate with the BPD
- Feelings before facts. In ordinary conversations, facts are placed before feelings. We assess facts and then react with our feelings. BPDs often reverse this process. The BPD has distinctive feelings, such as abandonment, so change facts to match her feelings. For example, a BPD may interpret your actions as abandonment when you are simply leaving to the run errands. Instead of pointing out the facts such as the TO DO List in your hand, emphasize with her feelings such as, "You sound really upset. I would be upset too if I thought you were leaving forever. However (however is better than "but") I'm just going to run errands and I'll be back at 3pm."’
- Remember the importance of timing. With certain subjects, good and bad times are available. Certain incidents can make the BPD feel weak and could lead her to feel rejected, abandoned or invalidated. During these times, communication is likely to be exponentially more difficult. Postpone the communication if you can; however, if you can’t, take into account the BPD’s greater weakness at this time. During times of highly positive emotions, the BPD may show impulsivity which is a hallmark of BPD. During bad times, the BPD can be impulsive by telling you that she never wants to see you again. During good times, she may express that she adores you and wants to get married this instance. A BPD’s positive impulsivity can be very charming and enthralling. Detach yourself to as a defense again the seductiveness of her impulsivity.
- Understand Validation You can validate the feelings of a BPD by accepting her right to own her feelings. Though you do not necessarily agree with her feelings, acknowledgement helps to identify her current feelings. Emotions circulate as feelings of being sad, frustrated, unheard, misunderstood, lonely, and depressed. By validating these feelings, you can help label her feelings and be there for her. The goal of validation is to calm the BPD, otherwise, a trivial issue may escalate to anger and rage.
- Delay, Distract, Depersonalize, and Detach. In the midst of an intense conversation that is escalating and unproductive, practice the following:
- Delay -- Suggest talking about things later or asking for time to think about what she is saying. Speak calmly and in a way that affirms the BPD as well as yourself without necessarily confirming her claims: "I'm feeling upset right now. Your feelings are important to me and I need some time to understand them."
- Distract -- Suggest doing something else at that moment, like grocery shopping.
- Depersonalize -- Remind yourself often that the BPD’s tough criticism of you is not real. Try not to take the BPD’s comments personally however cutting or cruel they may feel to you as this is the nature of BPD.
- Detach -- Remove yourself from getting caught up in the emotional whirlwind. Resolve to yourself, "I'm not going to get so involved in this." http://www.bpdcentral.com/blog/?Tips-for-Communicating-with-Someone-With-Borderline-Disorder-8
- The Four (4) Don'ts you should not do or say to the BDP:
1. Don’t defend yourself.
2. Don’t explain.
3. Don’t justify.
4. Don’t counter attack.
- Practice SET Communication Method to effectively to handle the BPD with:
o Support. support statements are important to reassure the BPD that you want to help.
o Empathy. involves making the BPD feel that you understand her feelings.
o Truth. re-state reality after emotional outbursts are settled.
After many decades of cycling in and out of a relationship with my BPD mother, the last straw occurred almost 10 years ago. Throughout my life, I forgave and moved forward after repeated emotional abuse from my BPD mother. The typical cycle was 5 years in a relationship, 5 years estranged (all of which were initiated by her). I accepted apologies, I turned the other cheek, and I walked on eggshells, using many of the recommendations and methods outline above.
Ultimately, the healthiest choice I could make was estrangement. Initially when my mother blew-up on me about my engagement and future wedding, I hadn’t been pushed past the edge of never trusting her again. However, through her intense campaigns of denigration and her aggressive actions against me, trust was lost that cannot be repaired.
I didn't get to select my parent... I was born to her. Due to being born to a parent, many daughters and sons feel as if they have to remain in the relationship out of respect, religion, or duty. After trying to communicate, placate, understand, delay, distract, depersonalize, detach, and more, I made a choice not to take the abuse, dysfunction, toxicity, craziness, manipulations from my parent anymore. I didn’t want the battle anymore either. Further, I have a choice of who I let into my life, what influences me (and my husband and child too), and how I allow those around me to treat me. I would rather have the hole of where a mother should fill rather than a hole as a result of continued abuse.
One can build a life that is healthy and happy and prosper away from the BPD but trying to build a life with an ever destructive force of the BPD is extremely challenging and fatiguing. For those of you trying to survive a relationship with a BPD, I wish all of you the strength, clarity, and fortitude possible. Hopefully some of these tips will help you to navigate away from the winds that blow over the BPD’s house of cards.