Understanding Borderline Personality Disorder
People often ask me what it is like living with someone who has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). The answer to that question is as complex as the 256 ways in which the BPD traits can combine in a single human being. It is also as simple as this: it is challenging, to put it mildly. Those with BPD have extreme difficulty controlling their emotions and often have difficulty comprehending that others think differently than them. Under a constant barrage of criticism and the overflow of emotion, you may feel like you are the unreasonable party or that you are going mad.
Some days are easier than others; these are days that the symptoms are better controlled. Some days are the opposite. People with this disorder can one day be fun, light-hearted, loving and adventurous, while the next day be depressing, morose, sad and suicidal. Sometimes they are understanding and supportive, and sometimes they are critical and enraged. Some with BPD tend to gravitate towards one end of these spectrums and some to the other. Some oscillate rapidly between both.
Changes in Mood
Perhaps the most difficult thing about living with someone with BPD is their mood swings. A person with BPD has mood swings that can occur rapidly, their needs and desires changing not just from week to week or day to day, but from moment to moment. These swings can occur in response to seemingly innocuous interpersonal interactions, or to their own internally-generated thoughts, memories, and feelings. From one moment to the next, someone who appears happy or complacent can become sad or angry.
Learning to live with a person with BPD means learning to be on the lookout for these changes. It means being ready to metaphorically or literally parry or duck the oncoming barrage or surf the oncoming wave. Learning to live with someone with BPD means learning everything that you can about this disorder. This way, you can generate a profound curiosity and compassion for your friend, acquaintance, or loved one. It is important to remember just how much they are constantly going through.
What It’s Like to Have This Disorder
Noted psychologist and author Dr. Marsha Linehan has described BPD sufferers as “third-degree burn patients” whose skin is constantly exposed to the air. They are so emotionally sensitive that every moment is its own living hell. A staggering 10% of those with BPD lose their battle and die by suicide, or 400 times the national average.
One moment BPD sufferers may appear tremendously competent and in control and the next they may take out their rage and despair on those around them. This can be incredibly frustrating for those who know (and even those who treat) them.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect is when things turn potentially suicidal for the person with BPD. The anguish one feels in trying to keep someone with BPD alive – seemingly against his or her own will – is intense, an incredible burden to bear. The best thing to do at these times is to reach out for help. After all, this person is someone you love, someone who desperately wants to live but is suffering greatly and needs you to be there for them in whatever way you can. Above all else, try hard to help them but remember to cut yourself some slack. “Whatever you can” is really the most that you can do at any moment given your training and capabilities.
How to Approach Someone with BPD
Some with BPD will admit their pain and be open to treatment. Some will admit they are in pain but refuse treatment because no therapy has ever helped them and they believe that no one can understand their pain. Others will place blame for their situation on anyone but themselves. While family members or friends cannot “fix” the person suffering or even necessarily persuade them to enter treatment, they can better the situation. They can do so by reducing their own sense of burden, grief, and depression, by developing compassion, and by learning effective skills, such as validation and acceptance, for interacting with someone who has this disorder.
A Tremendous Resource
Recognizing the strain put on family members living with a relative with BPD, the National Educational Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder (NEA.BPD) created the Family Connections (FC) program. This is a free, manualized program in which trained family members share their knowledge, wisdom, and experience. In doing so, they provide participating family members with knowledge, skills, and support. This program has revolutionized the lives of many family members throughout the world by helping them understand the challenges they face and providing them with tools that make it easier to live with their challenging loved ones.
Studies have shown that by providing the participants with effective means of dealing with their situations, their rates of grief, burden, and depression will decrease and their sense of empowerment or mastery will increase. The FC program is a good place to start your journey in learning to live with a loved one with BPD.
This program is now offered in English and Hebrew by the Israeli NEABPD affiliate. It is additionally offered in Italy, Sweden, Canada, Australia, and France, among other countries. So please find out about a program near you. Then, do yourself a favor: click on the “contact us” link and register for the program!