Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a serious mental health condition that often impacts the way the individual thinks and feels about themselves and others. As a result of the distorted thinking and feelings, persons with BPD experience challenges in their everyday life, such as disruptions in functioning, cognition, relationships, etc. Distortion also includes negative or inflated self-image, difficulty managing emotions and behavior, and a pattern of unstable relationships. Unfortunately, people that struggle with BPD give off conflicting signals to others, stop and go. Signals include “I want you to stay, don’t ever leave me”, and “get away from me”. At the core of the challenges endured by persons with BPD lies an intense fear of abandonment or instability. They have marked difficulty tolerating or accepting being alone. However, significant fluctuations in mood can make it difficult for those close to the individual with BPD to understand or prepare for their sudden bouts of anger, impulsivity, mood swings, etc.
BPD can be extremely devastating and destabilizing for both the individual sufferer as well as his or her family and friends. BPD impacts everyone the sufferer shares relationships with, including romantic partners and colleagues. Since relationships are negatively impacted by the sufferer’s behavior, many of those diagnosed with BPD will inadvertently alienate others, leading to feelings of isolation, abandonment and loneliness. Alienating others is often unintentional as the goal is not to be alone but to be “included” and loved.
Escalating moods and self-destructive behaviors usually contributes to feelings of helplessness and powerlessness for family members of persons with BPD. Feelings of powerlessness usually results from the family’s inability to “change” or “stop” the negative behaviors of the member with BPD. Watching a loved one with BPD struggle with symptoms associated with the disorder can be extraordinarily stressful for family members as those with the disorder show gross disturbances in their ability to control their emotions, engage in extremely chaotic interpersonal relationships, exhibit poor impulse control, and struggle with identity confusion.
Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder Include:
• Intense and often irrational fear of abandonment
• Suicidal threats or self-injurious behaviors that are typically in response to fear of separation, rejection, or abandonment
• Impulsivity leading to risky behaviors such as gambling, overspending, substance abuse, etc.
• Expansive mood swings
• Delusion/irrational thinking
• Inappropriate responses to stressful situations
• Difficulty managing moods
• Pattern of unstable relationships, multiple relationships, dysfunctional relationships, or difficulty maintaining relationships
• Periods of paranoia leading to increased suspicions of the behavior and motives of others
• Inappropriate, intense anger, such as failure to control one’s temper, being sarcastic or bitter, or having physical fights
• Rapid changes in identity, life goals and purpose.
• Dichotomous Thinking, black or white, no gray areas
The stress of caring for someone with BPD can be profound for family members. In addition to the chronic stress of caring for a loved one with BPD, many members of the BPD family will experience very severe psychological trauma due to some of the high-risk behaviors associated with BPD. Unfortunately, many people that struggle with BPD will engage in self-injurious behaviors, such as cutting or burning. These behaviors can become so severe that they can lead to accidental death. Higher rates of suicide have also been positively correlated to people with the disease.
Family members of those with BPD often struggle with the following:
• Increased stress
• Increased responsibility and caregiving duties
• PTSD (in extreme cases)
• Familial Breakdown
• Marital Breakdown
• Sibling conflicts
• Overly and pre-maturely excited about early progress in persons with BPD
• Feelings of being overwhelmed
Many family members of people with BPD describe very difficult struggles with feelings of guilt, such as, missing the “signs that something was wrong”. Although, the causes of BPD are unknown, research suggests that early childhood maltreatment in the form of abuse or neglect may be related to the development of BPD. There is also evidence of a strong genetic component. These findings lead many family members, especially parents, to blame themselves or feel guilty, even if the development of their loved one’s BPD was outside of their control.
Like many other mental health disorders people with BPD can experience an abatement in symptoms, they can go into full sustained remission. However, when early signs of progress appear, family members are encouraged to not show too much excitement, impose their expectations on the member with BPD, and caution the sufferer to move slowly. Progress can usually be attained through a slow and steady process, with intermittent encouragement. Encouragement should be intermittent as you do not want to deny or minimize the struggles of those with the disease. Family members need to act in concert with one another. Inconsistencies can lead to further confusion, acting out behaviors, frustration, and resentment.
In addition to working together as a family it is important that you partner with a knowledgeable mental health professional to ensure the proper course of treatment and support are being provided.