Individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD) are easily triggered into feeling bad about themselves and will often misinterpret others as putting them down or rejecting them, even though this may not be true.
They often react, to ward off these feelings by projecting them onto others, so others are bad, uncaring or mean. It is very difficult for the borderline to know what feelings belong to them or caused by others. It can be very confusing for the partner, who often feels accused of things, such as not wanting them.
The borderline who reacts to their feelings can make misinformed judgments because they let the past representation of caregivers distort how they relate to others and how they feel about themselves.
It is important to explore what is behind the actual behavior, instead of reacting. Most of their behavior is a way to communicate how they feel, but it comes out the wrong way
It is really important for the partner or loved ones to understand their fear of abandonment, to be sensitive to how they may interpret things, and not take their anger personally. It might also be useful to show them that your actions do not fit their projection.
It is important to see their reactions to protect them from feelings of abandonment and feelings of unworthiness or self-loathing.
Those with a borderline disorder do not intentionally want to hurt those they love, but they are often unaware of their triggers and often attribute their feelings to be caused by the person who triggered them, often the partner, friend, or therapist.
It is important for the person who is borderline to know what triggers them, so they can check out their feelings and not react to them.
A Child with BPD
Sometimes the parent enabled them to need them heavily, out of their own fear of abandonment, so the child was not able to explore their self away from the mother, without feeling abandoned. The child often had parents who couldn’t say no to them and gave into their tantrums, demands or wants.
The parent didn’t set limits on their behavior, allowing them to act out, be clingy or needy. Often, the child would defy the parent, by not doing as they were told. To cope, the parent abandoned their needs or reacted aggressively out of frustration, having enough.
To avoid rejection from the mother, they complied to meet the parent’s needs, being heavily invested in them, rather than exploring themselves. The child sometimes lacks self-confidence, avoids exploring and turns to the mother for comfort to avoid feeling abandoned.
Having a Relationship with Someone with BPD
The person who is borderline often is invested heavily in others, to get the love they want, focusing on them and complying with their needs. When they feel that others are separating, they react out of fear of abandonment.
As a result, the person who is borderline fears separation or abandonment, and often clings to relationships, becomes needy or demanding. They often give up their self for others and resent them for it, often acting out in anger because they could not express their self or assert their own needs.
The person who is borderline has not always formed a strong sense of self and can rely heavily on others to support them or function for them. The result is often burning out relationships with their constant reliance on others or pushing loved ones away, with accusations of abandonment or neediness.
The partner, therefore, needs to put limits on their acting out behaviors, not give into them, but stand strong and firm to set limits on their behavior, without judging the person. All this is achieved with empathic attunement to their fears and underlying anxieties.
Advice for How to Approach Someone with BPD
- Do not judge their character, but focus on the behavior that you want to address or set limits on.
- Do not give into their wants or demands, or rescuing. Encourage them to take responsibility for themselves and listen to them, so they can sort things out for themselves. But do not feel responsible for them, or you will be dealing with their problems forever.
- Do not judge the behavior but understand what is underneath the trigger, and respond to that.
- Do not take their angry actions personally or react. Let them know how their behavior impacts you to set limits on how they treat you. Let them know it pushes you away. Like a toddler, setting limits on the testing behavior will reduce it. If you ignore it, you collude in letting them act this way.
- Do not take their words seriously if they’re impulsive or reactive. But let them know how it affects you, once things are calm. Often, they’re not aware of how they come across to others and respect when others tell them, so they can understand themselves.
- Let them voice their concerns or express themselves, but point out the behavior that hurts you and set limits or boundaries on it. Do not give in or put up with it, otherwise you enable them to continue the acting out.
- If you do or say nothing, you will enable the acting out behavior to continue. Speak with conviction and be firm that the behavior is destructive, not the person. Think of the strong, calm parent who lets the toddler know when they’re out of line. It is said with love and conviction, so it’s taken seriously. Otherwise, they will continue to walk over you.
- Avoid solving their problems for them or taking responsibility for them. Encourage their self-exploration, so they can do things for themselves, so they can develop capacities within themselves.
What the person with a borderline disorder needed was a calm, strong parent who did not give in to them, but provided support for their real self to develop, so they could build confidence in themselves, and not cling to others for comfort.
About The Author
Nancy Carbone is a Counsellor and Couples Therapist. She specialized in the treatment of personality disorders from the Psychoanalytic International Masterson Institute in New York. Nancy has been a clinical trainer and supervisor.