Borderline Personality Disorder & Its Ugly Effect on Relationships

One woman who suffered from borderline personality disorder kept falling into the same cycle in her relationships. When she met a new man she saw as good-looking, smart, and successful, she quickly idealized him. For a couple months, she talked constantly about him and fantasized about marriage, growing irritated if someone questioned her about whether she was being realistic. Then just as suddenly, she would stop seeing him, saying he was a loser. She repeated this pattern in one relationship after another.

Approximately 14 in every 1,000 U.S. adults exhibit symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Despite its prevalence, BPD is tricky to diagnose because it resembles other disorders such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder. 

What is Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)?

Borderline Personality Disorder, also known as Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (EUPD), is characterized by an unstable self-image accompanied by instability in moods, behavior and relationships. It is often linked to childhood trauma such as neglect, abuse or the death of a parent. A person suffering with BPD may frequently experience doubts about their self-worth, leading to severe mood and behavior swings. This can lead to self-harming behaviors as well as behaviors that damage relationships. Seven in 10 BPD patients attempt suicide one or more times, and suicide rates are 50 times higher among people with BPD than the rest of the population.

Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline personality disorder has a number of characteristic symptoms:

  • Intense mood swings — A person with BPD may go from being extremely excited one moment to extremely depressed a short time later. For instance, if you have a friend who has BPD, you may have a very positive phone conversation with them in the morning, only to receive a text message that evening talking about how depressed they are. 
  • Splitting — Mood swings can lead to “all or nothing” thinking and behavior, known as “splitting.” For instance, if you know someone with BPD, they may talk in glowing terms about a person one day and criticize them harshly the next.
  • Feelings of low self-worth and emptiness — A person suffering BPD may frequently engage in negative self-talk that puts a pessimistic spin on everything. 
  • Self-harming behaviors — These behaviors can include cutting, substance abuse, risky sexual behavior, binge eating, and reckless spending. Talking about suicide or attempting suicide can be a severe manifestation of this behavior pattern.
  • Anxiety about being abandoned — This can lead them to act clingy in relationships. Alternately, they may compensate for anxiety by pre-emptively rejecting others before they can be rejected.

These dramatic behaviors can also accompany other disorders besides BPD, making it important to get a professional opinion instead of attempting self-diagnosis.

Borderline Personality Disorder Affects Familial Relationships

Borderline personality disorder can affect all of a person’s relationships, including familial relationships. A parent with borderline personality disorder may both spoil their child and act abusively toward them, verbally attacking them for mistakes, using guilt to manipulate them, or even physically abusing them. A child with borderline personality disorder may exhibit similar behaviors, such as obsessively disrupting a parent’s schedule to get attention or threatening to harm themselves to manipulate the parent.

People suffering BPD also have trouble identifying and respecting boundaries. This may lead to behaviors such as borrowing clothes or money without asking, interrupting others’ sleep schedules or asking inappropriately intimate questions.

… And Romantic Relationships

BPD disrupts a person’s romantic relationships. Individuals with BPD can experience emotions more intensely than others, feeling great joy or gratitude when someone acts kindly toward them while becoming depressed or angry at a hint of criticism. This can lead to wild swings of behavior in romantic relationships.

These behavior patterns tend to promote codependent romantic relationships. A person suffering from BPD may start to revolve their emotional life around someone, driving them away by clinging too closely. This habit can carry from one relationship to another as the individual’s behavior alienates them from one romantic partner only to repeat the same cycle with another.

What Others Can Do to Help Those With BPD

To help someone with BPD, first help yourself so you’ll be in a stronger position to help them. Being around someone with BPD may make you feel like you have to walk on eggshells to avoid triggering an incident, and they may blame you for their behavior. It’s important to remind yourself that you didn’t cause their behavior and you can’t cure or control it by yourself. Develop stress management techniques, including relying on a support system from other family members and friends.

To support someone with BPD, use good communication skills. Don’t get drawn into an argument when the person is in a bad mood. When they’re calmer, listen with a sympathetic ear to validate their feelings. Talk about how you can establish healthy boundaries in your relationship so that things don’t escalate into fights. 

If someone with BPD is exhibiting signs of suicidal behavior, don’t leave them alone. Get in touch their therapist, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

What You Can Do If You Have BPD

If you’re the one with BPD, it can make living your best life challenging. But there are things you can do:

Get in touch with a qualified therapist experienced with treating BPD. Psychologists have found helpful treatments. One is dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), which uses the idea of mindfulness to help you learn how to increase your awareness and acceptance of current situations and emotional states so you can better manage them. This can help you control intense emotions, avoid self-destructive behaviors and improve your relationships. Another approach helpful for treating BPD is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT can help you identify and change beliefs and values that are causing you to feel negatively about yourself or others so that you have a more positive outlook. In some cases, psychiatrists may also prescribe medicine to help manage severe mood swings.

If you’re concerned about fitting regular therapy appointments into your schedule to pursue is teletherapy. Teletherapy providers such as ThriveTalk connect busy people with competent certified therapists who can treat them via video conference. This can be a great option if your location or work schedule makes it difficult for you to visit a therapist’s physical office.

author avatar
Angel Rivera
I am a Bilingual (Spanish) Psychiatrist with a mixture of strong clinical skills including Emergency Psychiatry, Consultation Liaison, Forensic Psychiatry, Telepsychiatry and Geriatric Psychiatry training in treatment of the elderly. I have training in EMR records thus very comfortable in working with computers. I served the difficult to treat patients in challenging environments in outpatient and inpatient settings
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