Rescuers Down Under: A Survival Guide to Loving Someone with BPD
Borderline personality disorder as a name has carried many decades of stigma regarding the treatment of those who suffer from this personality disorder. Borderline personality disorder, is described by many psychotherapists as a liminal space of thought. That the individual suffers on the borderline of psychosis and neurosis. A stagnant, emotionally charged place between reality, and conscious experience through the lens of black and white thinking.
If you’ve ever heard the term BPD, or met someone who has been diagnosed, almost every conversation includes the stigma of treatment. Often times, therapists will not take new clients previously diagnosed with BDP, and those that will often project a darker prognosis for the client. Essentially, a person with BDP struggles with attachment in interpersonal relationships. It can at times feel as though you are walking on egg shells due to their emotionally turbulent nature.
My own personal and professional experiences with those who suffer has been a challenging, frightening, and deeply rewarding endeavor. Through the lens of compassion I’ve learned an entirely new way to understand, and even better; communicate with them. Over the years I’ve spent in my own recovery, as well as assisting others in theirs; I’ve noticed some key facets of behavior. It is in their body language, their train of thought, and their outlook on life and relationships. To be able to redirect, contain, or even calm someone with BPD in a heightened state is no easy task. Most people would want to avoid it, therapists avoid it!
Over time, and through experience Ive come to learn an entirely new language in order to meet them, exactly where they are. If you work in the mental health industry, know or love someone with BDP, or even suffer from it yourself; the following points will guide you to a leveled playing field.
The Many Sides of Truth:
Communicating with a borderline can feel as though you never quite know when they will become triggered. Seemingly out of nowhere, a word, a feeling, a scent can send them on a tail spin. For an outsider looking in, it can feel exaggerated, dramatic, and manipulative. Its in the behavior elicited when they are activated that can appear like a ploy; and truth be told it is. But it doesn't make it any less real for the borderline. The beginning to understanding them, is to understand their truth. To understand that although you care, love, inspire, or even just feel neutral about them; what is happening is a level of attachment that they will constantly seek to have validated. Somewhere in the stages of perception, they believe that they are unworthy of love, and that ultimately everyone they care about will eventually abandon them. And that fear is very real in the mind and heart of a borderline, no matter the circumstances.
Boundaries! Its important to distinguish between boundaries and detachment. Borderlines need boundaries, because they will push. This is not done with malice though. A borderline will actively test boundaries, as a means to gauge how you feel about them. And so we must hold loving boundaries. And we can love and hold that space for their growth, by loving and respecting ourselves in the process. What it takes is validating their experience, but also being mindful about your own. It can sometimes feel as though a relationship with a borderline is one sided. To combat successfully is to offer an authentic relationship. Share your vulnerabilities and fears. Communicate your needs in whichever dynamic you hold with them.
More often than not, the dynamic that emerges between a borderline and those who love them; morphs over time into a savior dynamic. The narrative often portrays a rescuer and the borderline that must be saved from the trenches of their emotions. The cycle that can continue is one where we save them. And yet what follows is more boundaries being pushed, more manipulation, and resentment. The borderline learns a deeper state of helplessness, and so they seek more validation through being saved. One of the biggest misconceptions about borderlines is that they aren't very functioning in society. However, borderlines have an unlimited well of emotional depth. They can pick up on the smallest, and slightest change in behavior. They are in Essence a psychic sponge, and those censors are often hard to turn off. With strong, yet loving boundaries, we can meet them in this space, without having to rescue them. Instead, the best course of action is to encourage them. Validate the connection you keep with them by not saving them, but enriching their experience. Giving them feedback on what they're good at, and where their skills lie. Communicate with them supportive words that help them believe that they are not helpless.
Supporting Role in a Drama Series:
Encouragement is a necessary language to use with someone with BDP. Taking on a supportive role rather than a savior of their problems is what they truly need. They need support strong enough to help them believe that they are the master of their own emotions, even though it feels like slavery to them. Encourage them to go to treatment. Encourage them to share their story, encourage them to seek a therapist. The ugly face that has smeared over borderlines really has put a damper on success rates. Its in the attitude that they are helpless, hopeless, and without options that further perpetuates this cycle. However, little by little, loving them in a way that can help them see themselves as they truly are Is the gift that makes them feel safe and in turn, carry an authentic; equal dynamic with the people they care about.