Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mental health illness that significantly affects a person’s ability to regulate emotions. This, in turn, can lead to impulsive behavior and trouble with self-esteem or self-image. BPD also makes communication and relationships challenging.
You can help improve your relationship with someone with BPD by focusing on good communication. This is vital since people with BPD often allow their emotions to color their interpretation of a situation. Healthy communication will also help the person feel supported.
Keep reading to find out more about how to help someone with BPD, how to communicate with them, and ways you can take care of yourself.
Communication and BPD Episodes
A person with BPD may go through periods in which they don’t show any symptoms of the illness but then become triggered by something. This is known as an episode and is marked by worsening signs and symptoms. Common BPD triggers include rejection (perceived or real), abandonment (perceived or real), trauma, and criticism.
It’s important to be consistent in your approach and to practice clear communication on a daily basis. That said, it’s best to save any difficult conversations for when your loved one isn’t having an episode. They’ll be calmer and more rational, and the discussion will be more productive.
If the individual is experiencing severe mood swings and you’re concerned about them, get help 24/7 by calling the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration national helpline at 800-622-HELP (4357). Take any threats of self-harm or suicide seriously and don’t hesitate to take the person to the emergency room or call the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988.
Five Ways to Help Someone with BPD
Being in a relationship with someone with BPD poses some unique challenges, but there are ways you can support them while also taking care of yourself.
Validate Their Feelings
Validation—affirming how someone feels—allows them to be seen and gives them hope. An invalidating environment is a major trigger for people with BPD. You don’t necessarily have to agree with the person; validation simply means you’re listening and acknowledging the person’s feelings. Research has found that validation helps improve long-term therapeutic outcomes for people with BPD.
Check In Regularly
Fear of abandonment is another major trigger for people with BPD. Checking in with them consistently reassures them that you have not forgotten about them and provides a sense of security.
Spend Time Talking About Other Things
It’s not healthy for anyone to make a diagnosis the bedrock of their identity or personality. Your loved one with BPD still has other interests, and their life is larger than their diagnosis. Make the space to talk about other things and plan activities together.
Learn About DBT
Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is the most common treatment for BPD, and it is highly effective. It teaches mindfulness, tolerating distress, and regulating emotions. By familiarizing yourself with DBT, you can help your loved one practice these skills.
Get Familiar With Mental Healthcare Services
All the love and support in the world cannot take the place of professional mental healthcare services. You can help your loved one get the care they need by being aware of local inpatient and outpatient treatment programs. Should they threaten self-harm or suicide, dial 988 to be connected to the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.
Set Healthy Boundaries
Healthy boundaries, including being clear about the types of behavior you won’t tolerate, are essential for your own self-care. By consistently reinforcing them, you can help improve your relationship with your loved one, too.
Be honest but kind—reassure the person that you want your relationship to continue, but you have to set some boundaries to take care of yourself. Be clear about what your limits are and what the consequences will be if they’re ignored.
Being A Support System Through BPD Treatment
A strong support network can help make BPD treatment more effective. Things you can do to support your loved one during BDP treatment include:
- Encourage treatment and learn about the treatment they are getting.
- Learn about BPD to better understand them.
- Reassure them, even when they’re having episodes, and validate their feelings.
- Realize that this is a clinical disorder, and their symptoms are part of it.
Being a support system for someone with BPD is great, but don’t overlook the support you need, too. A therapist or support group can help you work through your own struggles and emotions, educate yourself about BPD, and arm you with tools to improve communication.
Being in a relationship with someone with BPD can be challenging. But there are many communication strategies that can help. These include validating the person’s emotions, learning about their treatment, and taking care of yourself by setting clear boundaries.
A Word From Verywell
People living with BPD can be very intense; that’s the disorder manifesting itself. There are many things you can do to provide support, but don’t take it upon yourself to “fix” anyone. Professional treatment for them—and outside support for you—is a smart approach.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is communication difficult for people with BPD?
Communication may be difficult for people with BPD because they tend to see the world as either all good or all bad. Their moods can be volatile and intense, and it may be hard to control anger. In addition, people with BPD may feel like they’re being abandoned at the smallest slight, and these feelings are very real. This can trigger an emotional reaction that interferes with healthy communication.
How can you motivate someone with BPD without being pushy?
It can be challenging to strike the right tone: You don’t want to enable destructive behavior, but threats or ultimatums can backfire by making the person defensive. It’s best to be consistent with your support, and to validate their feelings.
When you should leave a BPD relationship?
This answer can be different for everyone, but if the person repeatedly refuses to respect your boundaries and/or you feel unsafe, it may be time to leave. A therapist or BPD support group can help you navigate this situation.