One thing that consistently comes up with Borderline Personality Disorder is relationships. That is, people with BPD are so difficult to be friends with. Or it’s really hard on a family when someone has BPD. Or people with BPD can never have meaningful relationships. I’m here to tell you that although relationships can sometimes be hard, it is possible to have good relationships when diagnosed with BPD!
Why are relationships difficult when BPD is involved?
BPD sufferers often have a deep fear of abandonment. This means that they are likely to be very clingy until they sense that you are going to leave. When they think you will leave, they will start to withdraw and leave first to avoid abandonment. I’ve seen it in movies a lot – girl hears that guy is going to dump her so dumps him first. It is a way to gain back some control, to avoid getting hurt. But, sometimes the sense of someone leaving is wrong. They were never going to dump her and now she’s lost the relationship just to avoid being left.
Certain behaviours can make you think that that those with BPD are horrible people. This includes things like manipulation and attention seeking. With BPD, manipulation is often used to get a need met. People remain unaware that there better ways to get a need met so resort to manipulation, often not realising that they are doing it. Attention seeking is common; it is often a cry for help or a desperate attempt to get someone to pay attention. For me, I often look for attention when I feel unloved or unheard. Making me feel loved and heard counters the need for destructive, attention seeking behaviour.
There are people who really love the intensity of emotions from people with BPD. My partner loves how passionate I get and how much I care about other people. However, it is understandable that this intensity is not comfortable for everyone. If I am your friend, I will constantly tell you I love you and I will worry about you and want to spend a lot of time with you. This is common with BPD. Therefore, if you feel like this would be too much for you and you like your friends more aloof and less emotional then BPD friendships probably aren’t going to be suited to you.
If you are finding it difficult to be in any sort of relationship with someone who has BPD then here’s some advice:
- Reassure them. Tell them that you are not going to leave them even if things get difficult.
- Do not make false promises. Never ever do this. Breaking a promise is never a good thing but when someone is particularly insecure then it can be very damaging.
- Talk to them. It is common for people with mental illnesses to isolate themselves; sometimes just a text letting someone know you are thinking of them will make so much difference.
- Do not make plans with all your friends and exclude someone, even if it unintentional, it is still hurtful. When you have BPD and you feel excluded, your mind enters the ‘everyone hates me, no one wants me around, I might as well be dead’ state which is never fun. Invite them to events, even if you think they’ll say no. Being invited to things is nice and reinstates the thought that you want someone around.
- Do not let them push you away. “I hate you, please don’t leave” is a common BPD trait. This means that I will probably tell you that I hate you and I’m doing it to test our relationship. If you stay despite me being awful then all is well but if you leave then you were just like everybody else who left before. I am not excusing being mean to people/testing people’s patience in this way however, if you understand the thinking behind it then it softens the blow.
- Be open and honest. Lying does not sit well with BPD. Finding out you have lied is horrible and for me, it makes me start questioning everything about you.
- Learn all you can about BPD, ask questions about it, try to understand it as much as possible. This means a lot with any mental illness. Showing that you care enough to go and find out about it is important and it will be useful for you.
- I have already mentioned this but again, reassurance is so helpful. Tell them you love them and that you care about them, that you are here to stay. It is all nice for anyone to hear but more so when you feel like you are inherently unlovable.
- If you believe that you cannot deal with the intensity of a person with BPD among other things, then do not enter a relationship with them. Do not become their friend or partner if you know that you will find it difficult. It will be much easier to have someone walk away early on. Going into a relationship knowing you will eventually leave is unfair.
- Remember that BPD is just a diagnosis: a list of symptoms. People are more than this, so much more.
A lot of this might seem obvious. However, they are all things that are commonly forgotten about in relationships and make a huge difference if someone has BPD. It can take more work when BPD is involved, but all relationships require some effort from those involved. If you are willing to do small things like offer reassurance and send a message every other day then a relationship involving BPD can be just as wonderful as any other.
Everyone is different, these things help me but ask the person with BPD what specifically helps them. Communicate your worries, be open.